Inflammatory Bowel Disease has been on the up rise over the past two to three decades. Some studies suggest that the number of cases diagnosed in industrialized countries in the past thirty years has doubled. Two of the most common disorders are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. One of the common pre-cursors to these illnesses is a weakened immune system.
The immune system protects the body from infections, harmful bacteria, and even cancer cells. In IBD, the body mistakes food, bacteria, and other materials as a foreign substance, attacking it with white blood cells in the lining of the intestines, leading to chronic inflammation. This chronic inflammation causes the lining of the digestive tract to be more permeable to toxins, which enter directly into the bloodstream, causing toxic build up and inflammation to become systemic.
Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are related to the digestive tract and include diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, and bleeding. However, because of this systemic effect, the joints, eyes, skin, and other organ systems can also be affected. Fatigue is a common complaint and there is an increased risk of cancer. Dealing with IBD symptoms, as with any chronic illness, can be difficult as the symptoms often interfere with the affected person’s quality of life, with a negative impact on social, family, and work relationships. Anxiety and depression may result as multiple dimensions of the person’s life is affected.
Traditional medicine to treat IBD’s is limited to antibiotics, immune modifiers, and steroids. Because of the negative side effects of these drugs, which can include suppressing the immune system, increasing the chances of infection, and decreasing the amount of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract, many people are turning to Alternative Medicine to treat these digestive disorders. More than half of all patients afflicted have tried homeopathic treatments or alternative therapies with successful results. Natural supplementation, such as probiotics, proves beneficial in most patients, as do activated charcoal and black walnut extract. Although there are general guidelines for dietary recommendations, everyone responds individually. Keeping a food journal can be essential in discovering which health plan is best for you.
The focus in Alternative Medicine is to strengthen the immune system. By revitalizing the body’s natural healing capability, it can heal itself with no negative side effects. A recent study published in Digestion: Journal of International Gastroenterology concluded that Acupuncture is effective in decreasing the disease symptoms, and increasing general well being and energy. Unlike patients who are managing their illness with medications, acupuncture patients do not experience negative side effects, and both The National Institute of Health and the World Health Organization endorse Acupuncture as effective for the treatment of digestive problems.
Nutrition is also important. Studies suggest that people who include high percentages of processed foods or foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar have a higher chance of developing or exacerbating Crohn’s disease. Luckily, certain foods have been reported to reduce symptoms. Eating fruits and vegetables, lowering fat, and eliminating sugar may help. Vegetables may be steamed, baked, or pureed if fiber triggers flare-ups. Foods that are known to be high in antioxidants, such as blueberries, cherries, squash and slow cooked root vegetables are recommended, as well as foods high in B vitamins, calcium, and magnesium, and dark leafy greens, like kale. There have been cases that have gone into remission after eating a temporary diet of steamed kale.
Caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco should be avoided, along with refined foods, including white bread and pasta. Coconut products such as oil, milk and water have natural anti- spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. This soothes irritated smooth muscle and stops abdominal cramping. It is recommended that the only oil used to cook with is coconut oil. The molecule of coconut oil is very small and high in lauric acid. This dissolves the lipid layer of viruses, bacteria and pathogens and therefore effectively destroys them. Avocado is another delicious and beneficial food to explore for IBD patients. It is high in soluble fiber, which is gentler to a compromised digestive system.
There are many theories as to what causes Crohn’s disease and other digestive illnesses, ranging from the increased use of antibiotics to dietary changes, which people have experienced over the last few decades. It is questionable whether genetically engineered foods play a role in compromised digestive systems, especially over time. Genetics also plays a role. We know that symptoms can be managed with the use of traditional medications. However, many are turning to alternative medicine, including acupuncture, Chinese medicine and dietary changes to not only reduce symptoms but promote healing, boost the immune system, and decrease inflammation, with the added benefit of no negative side effects.
Food being an integral part of our life and health, it is important to make healthy choices, but it can also be fun and even simple. Try some delicious steamed kales drizzled with organic coconut oil, or sprinkle some curry powder on a fresh cubed avocado.
For a real treat that will settle the tummy, check out this recipe for coconut macaroons!
- 4 egg whites
- 3 1/2 cups large coconut chips
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2/4 tablespoons of Maca powder
Combine all ingredients in a heat proof stainless steel mixing bowl. Set bowl in wide skillet of barely simmering water. Mix ingredients with a spatula thoroughly for 5-7 minutes. Set batter aside for 30 minutes to let coconut absorb. Preheat oven to 350°F. Use 2 tablespoons of batter to make heaps 2 inches apart on parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake for 5 minutes until slightly browned. Lower the temperature to 325°F and bake for 10-15 minutes. Let cool, gently peel off parchment paper and enjoy!