Colitis and Crohn’s Disease
Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease fall under the general heading of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Similar to irritable bowel syndrome (although IBS is milder), these two conditions exhibit visible injuries to the colon wall. A superficial inflammation of the large intestine ultimately results in ulceration and bleeding.
While these conditions affect men and women equally, the symptoms usually start between the ages of 15 and 40. The conditions seem to be cyclical in nature, alternating between periods of no symptoms to timeframes of severe stomach pains and diarrhea with blood.
While the exact cause of colitis and Crohn’s disease is unknown, there does seem to be a hereditary link between members of certain families.
There are several types of colitis, including ulcerative colitis, ischemic colitis, antibiotic-induced colitis, as well as some non-specific forms of this condition.
Some of the symptoms of these conditions include:
- Stomach pain
- Bloody diarrhea
- Blood in stools
- Weight loss
- Inflammation of the eyes
- Rectal fissures or abscess
These symptoms can be present infrequently or most of the time.
An endoscopy and a barium enema X-ray test are typically performed to determine the extent of the condition as it is present in the rectum and the large intestine. Blood tests can also be performed to determine just how severe the inflammation is and to check the patient for anemia.
After colitis or Crohn’s disease has been diagnosed, it is possible to reduce the amount of flare-ups by partaking in preventative treatments, monitoring symptoms, and consulting a physician when blood is present in the stools.
First and foremost, if any of the following symptoms are present, immediate medical help should be requested: high fever, vomiting or jaundice, or bleeding from the rectum.
A diet which soothes colitis or Crohn’s disease would consist of rice rather than carbohydrates. Avoid any foods that tend to cause an inflammation of the colon, such as those containing gluten (barley, rye and wheat), soy and dairy products. Also avoid eating raw or fatty foods. It is wise to eliminate those foods which are known to trigger food allergies, such as eggs and tomatoes.
After avoiding the above foods for three weeks, slowly introduce one food at a time back into the normal diet. As each food is re-introduced, be sure to track any adverse reactions, which could include mood changes, headaches, flushing skin, and gastrointestinal upsets. A rotation diet in which a different type of food is eaten every three to four days may be helpful in soothing the symptoms. Plenty of fiber-rich foods should be consumed, including gluten-free whole grains (such as rice) and fresh fruit and vegetables. However, the vegetables should be steamed and not eaten raw: many colitis patients find it difficult to digest raw vegetables.
A tbsp of loose psyllium husks can be added to the diet daily to foster good intestinal health. Discontinue the use of psyllium husks if diarrhea is present.
Some herbs to try during bouts of colitis or Crohn’s disease for easing of symptoms in the gastrointestinal (GI) area include:
- Marshmallow root – Has a soothing effect on the GI tract
- Wild indigo – For treating GI infections
- Geranium – Helps reduce extra secretions in the GI tract
- Goldenseal – Inhibits the growth of bacteria in the GI tract
- Poke root – To help heal ulcers in the intestines
- Fennel – To relieve spasms in the GI tract, as well as to treat flatulence and distention
Avoid the use of alcohol or aspirin, which may contribute to bleeding.
Take a probiotic daily. The use of daily multivitamins can also be beneficial by helping the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients. The following supplements taken daily typically help colitis:
- Magnesium – 200 mg
- Zinc – 50 mg
- Vitamin E – 200 IU
- Vitamin A – 10,000 IU
- Peppermint oil – 1 or 2 enterocoated capsules
By taking supplements which are enterocoated, the body allows them to bypass the stomach with no disintegration and the active ingredients make it to the intestines.
For less-severe forms of colitis, several herbal treatments may ease symptoms. Slippery elm root powder can offer a protective layer to an individual’s intestinal wall. The powder can be added to various foods throughout the day, or a drink can be made by adding 1 tsp of the powder to a cup of liquid. Sweeten if desired and drink several times a day.
Aloe vera juice can help heal the inflamed mucosa of the colon during bouts of this condition. This juice is for short-term use as it does have some laxative properties.
A good herbal formula for chronic colitis is made from combining St. John’s wort, yarrow, marshmallow, gingko, frankincense, calendula and gentian. All these have properties which are anti-inflammatory and wound healing. A medical herbalist should be consulted to obtain the exact combination to address each colitis patient’s individual symptoms.
Other herbs to try for easing the effects of colitis or Crohn’s disease include dandelion root, lemon balm and boswellia. These herbs contain antispasmodic compounds which may ease inflammation and discomfort.
Sulfa drugs, anti-diarrhea drugs, medicated enemas and steroid therapy are often prescribed. When chronic conditions have been diagnosed, medicated enemas and steroid therapy are typically prescribed. In cases of severe chronic diseases, immune-suppressive drugs may be recommended.
In cases of chronic ulcerative colitis it may be necessary to surgically remove the large intestine.
Medication is usually sufficient to suppress inflammation in these conditions. A diet conducive to healing colitis is a wise choice, as well as herbal supplements as discussed above.
Who is at Risk
Men and women equally between the ages of 15 and 50 can be prone to these conditions.
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