Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Also known as Crohn syndrome and regional enteritis, this chronic disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus.
According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, Crohn’s disease affects as many as 780,000 Americans, including both men and women. It can occur at any age, although it is more prevalent among people ages 15 to 35. A large number of cases have also been recorded among people ages 60 to 80.
The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown. However, research suggests that heredity, a weak or malfunctioning immune system, excessive smoking, previous infectious disease, intake of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines and environmental factors contribute to the development of this disease. Also, a poor diet, nutritional deficiencies and stress can contribute to it.
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease vary from person to person. Sometimes, people have no symptoms or very mild symptoms for long time periods. This is known as remission. One can also go through periods when symptoms flare up and become particularly troublesome.
During a flare-up, symptoms may include persistent diarrhea, a low-grade fever, low energy, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting, blood and mucus in the stool, mouth sores, loss of appetite, weight loss and perianal disease.
Other signs and symptoms include inflammation of the skin, eyes, joints and bile ducts. Delayed growth in children can also be a sign.
There is no known cure for Crohn’s disease and no single treatment that works for everyone. Basically, treatments and home remedies are carried out to reduce inflammation, relieve symptoms and prevent the need for surgery whenever possible. Before starting any treatment, proper diagnosis and doctor’s consultation is a must.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for Crohn’s disease.
Probiotics are essential for people suffering from Crohn’s disease. Probiotics are live bacteria that are similar to “good” bacteria that normally reside in the intestines. They help restore the state of good bacteria in the digestive tract, which in turn enhances digestion, absorption and processing of foods through the intestinal tract.
It is recommended to take probiotic supplements that contain both the L. acidophilus and L. bifidus organisms, both of which promote digestive health.
Consult a doctor for the proper dosage of probiotic supplements.
2. Green Tea
Green tea has many health-promoting benefits for Crohn’s disease due to its anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and antioxidant properties. Plus, green tea has a positive impact on the immune system, and even reduces the risk of colon cancer.
- Add one teaspoon of green tea leaves to a cup of hot water.
- Cover and steep for five minutes.
- Strain, add some honey and mix well.
- Drink this soothing tea at least three times a day.
Due to the mucilage content in marshmallow, it has a soothing effect on the gastrointestinal tract and is very effective in the treatment of Crohn’s disease.
It heals the inflamed lesions in the gastrointestinal tract, removes irritants and reduces inflammation.
- Add two to five grams of dried leaf of marshmallow, or five grams of dried marshmallow root, to one cup of hot water.
- Cover and steep for five to 10 minutes.
- Strain and then drink this tea.
- Drink marshmallow tea three times per day.
Note: Avoid marshmallow if you have diabetes.
4. Slippery Elm
Being a demulcent and a natural anti-inflammatory agent, slippery elm helps heal and protect irritated and injured digestive tissues. It also promotes normal bowel movements and facilitates faster healing. Plus, this herb helps prevent nutritional deficiencies and electrolyte imbalance in people who have Crohn’s disease.
- Add one teaspoon of slippery elm powder to a glass of hot water. Let it steep for five minutes. Drink it at least one hour after taking other medications. You can drink this solution two or three times a day.
- You can also mix together one teaspoon each of slippery elm and sugar in two cups of hot water. Consume this twice daily.
Another very effective home remedy for Crohn’s disease is turmeric. This spice has a compound known as curcumin, an anti-inflammatory agent that helps reduce inflammation and swelling in the digestive tract. Also, turmeric helps in reducing any abscess on the large and small intestinal linings.
- Turmeric or curcumin supplements of 400 to 600 mg can be taken three times daily. As a curcumin supplement may interact with blood-thinner drugs and diabetes drugs, consult your doctor before taking it.
- Also include turmeric powder in your day-to-day cooking.
Herbalists often recommend boswellia for treating Crohn’s Disease. The herb has anti-inflammatory properties and helps reduce inflammation in the lining of the gastrointestinal or digestive tract. A few studies have also found it to be helpful in dealing with Crohn’s disease. However, more research is still needed.
You can take 1,200 mg of boswellia three times daily for up to eight weeks.
As boswellia may interact with other drugs and supplements, it is important to consult a doctor before taking it.
Ginger is also very helpful in managing some of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It can reduce inflammation in the intestines. Plus, it helps in the digestion process.
- Add one-half teaspoon of freshly grated ginger to a cup of hot water, cover and allow it to steep for 10 minutes. Strain, add some honey and drink the tea. Repeat two or three times daily until you notice improvement in your condition.
- Alternatively, you can take ginger supplements after consulting your doctor.
8. Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil is also recommended for those suffering from Crohn’s disease. This oil is rich in two omega-3 fatty acids – DHA and EPA. Both these fatty acids are anti-inflammatory agents that help reduce inflammation in the intestinal mucosa. Plus, cod liver oil has vitamins D and A, which are important for people who have Crohn’s disease.
Take one to two teaspoons of cod liver oil daily. Another option is to take cod liver oil capsules.
Note: Before taking cod liver oil, it is highly recommended to consult a doctor.
Carrots are a good source of healthy nutrients for those suffering from Crohn’s disease. They contain antioxidants that help deal with Crohn’s symptoms. Plus, carrots are easy to digest and help boost the immune system.
- Cook a few carrots until they are soft and tender. Add a little salt and eat one-half cup of carrot puree several times a day.
- You can also drink freshly extracted carrot juice with a few drops of lemon juice and a little bit of honey several times a day until you notice improvement.
10. Vitamin D
People suffering from Crohn’s disease often have low levels of vitamin D. In fact, a 2010 study conducted at McGill University and the University of Montreal suggests that vitamin D deficiency is a leading cause of Crohn’s disease.
Experts believe that vitamin D plays a part in regulating your immune response and can even relieve inflammation and ease symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
- The best source of vitamin D is the sun, which activates the body’s production of vitamin D. Try to expose your body to early morning sunrays.
- Also eat vitamin D-rich foods like beef liver, egg yolks, sardines, salmon, shrimp, cod and fortified milk.
- You can also take 800 IU of vitamin D supplement daily. Consult a doctor before taking any supplement.
- Maintain a food diary to keep track of what causes your symptoms to flare. This will make it easier for you to eliminate those food items.
- Limit dairy products and high-fiber foods, as well as spicy and deep fried foods.
- Instead of eating two or three large meals, eat five or six small meals throughout the day.
- Drink plenty of water as well as healthy fruit and vegetable juices.
- Avoid alcohol and beverages that contain caffeine.
- Stop smoking, which can worsen your condition.
- Reduce stress as it may trigger flare-ups.
- Do mild exercises daily to normalize bowel function.
- Try acupuncture as it helps treat inflammatory bowel diseases.
- Take iron, B vitamins and zinc supplements. Before taking a supplement, always consult a doctor.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Martin Weltman, MBBCh (Gastroenterologist)
What foods should a person suffering from Crohn’s disease strictly avoid?
Different individuals find that different foods irritate their gut and upset their Crohn’s disease. In general, during a flare-up, when the disease is active, it is felt best to avoid high fiber foods like whole-grain bread, whole-grain cereals, nuts, quinoa, coconut, brown rice, dried fruit, and seeds.
Also, avoid alcohol and sugary drinks during a flare-up. In addition, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, and squash are best minimized.
Which foods are beneficial for a person suffering from Crohn’s disease?
Low fiber foods are best to consume during a flare-up, such as white bread, white rice, refined cereals, and protein without sauces. Water, low sugar drinks, and decaffeinated coffee and tea are best in this situation. Fruits should be peeled before eating. Moderate fats are fine.
Once the flare-up has subsided, it would be advisable to move to a high fiber diet which appears to help people suffering from Crohn’s disease.
Some patients with small bowel disease may need vitamin B12 and/or folic acid supplementation. The patient should follow healthy eating principles. Diet and food allergies do not cause Crohn’s disease.
What other health conditions can aggravate the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?
Other conditions that lead to diarrhea will also aggravate Crohn’s disease. Smoking is definitely an aggravating factor and should be avoided.
What is the difference between Crohn’s disease, IBS, and celiac disease?
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract, mainly the small intestine and colon. It can vary in severity (mild, moderate or severe inflammation) and the clinical presentation will also vary by the site(s) involved.
There are often ulcers, bleeding, abscesses, and even fistulae (tunnels between different parts of the bowel and/or the skin). The cause behind it is not known, but it manifests in the form of a chronic illness. Affected persons often present with abdominal pain, diarrhea, and sometimes weight loss.
This condition can sometimes lead to inflammation of the joints and spine (arthritis), eye (uveitis, scleritis), skin problems (pyoderma gangrenosum – causing large skin ulcers), erythema nodosum (reddish tender swellings on the legs).
Celiac disease is an immune system disorder, wherein ingestion of any gluten leads to damage of the small intestine. In affected persons, the body amounts an immune response to gluten that leads to damage of the villi (finger-like small folds in the small intestine that assist with nutrient absorption).
These patients may present with iron and other nutritional deficiencies, diarrhea or constipation, bloating, and anemia. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 to 1 in 200 people. There is a strong association with other autoimmune illnesses, as well as nutritional disorders such as osteoporosis.
Patients are best managed with a gluten-free diet. If it is left untreated, there is an increased risk of malignancy, in particular, small bowel lymphoma and cancer of the small bowel.
Irritable bowel syndrome (or IBS) is a medical condition involving recurrent abdominal pain (mainly cramping), bloating and diarrhea or constipation (or both). There is a strong association with stress and anxiety, and it sometimes occurs after a previous gastroenteritis-type infection.
It is usually a chronic condition. IBS does not lead to bowel damage or an increased risk of colon cancer.
Can Crohn’s disease lead to eye complications?
Yes. Crohn’s disease can lead to eye complication, which presents mostly as red-eye and can potentially be serious. Ocular involvement includes conditions called dry eye, scleritis, and uveitis. These conditions may occur with bowel disease but can precede the onset of the Crohn’s disease.
The eye involvement is often a mild condition but warrants medical assessment as sometimes this could be very serious.
Can Crohn’s disease increase the chances of colon cancer?
Yes, Crohn’s disease, like other inflammatory diseases of the colon, can put an individual at an increased risk of colorectal cancer as well as small bowel cancers.
Please provide some important tips to help treat Crohn’s disease for the benefit of our readers.
Firstly do not blame yourself. You have not caused this disease. Seek professional medical attention from an experienced gastroenterologist. Take your medication properly. Prepare for your appointments and have a list of your symptoms and concerns. Inform your doctor about any supplements you are taking.
Avoid smoking; this is very important. Knowledge is important, so be informed about your condition. Some people can also benefit from joining a support group. Others find it useful to see a psychologist.
Dr. Martin Weltman, MBBCh: Dr. Weltman is an experienced Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist who works in both public and private practice (Bondi Junction) in Sydney. He has a Ph.D. in liver diseases, and he is also an Associate Professor of Medicine at the Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney.
Dr. Weltman has published over 250 articles and conference presentations in national and international peer-reviewed medical journals, as well as multiple book chapters. Dr. Weltman has clinical interests in Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis, Liver diseases, Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, and colon cancer prevention and screening.