Nutritional Rx for Crohn's and Colitis

If you have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, you have more control than you might think. A Crohn's disease expert shares some natural ways to help ease symptoms.
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Diet Therapy

Avoid trigger foods
The most common problem foods include those high in fiber (e.g., seeds, nuts, popcorn, raw fruits and vegetables, and leafy greens); greasy or fried foods; products that contain caffeine (e.g., coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate); alcohol; dairy and any other products that contain lactose; and spicy foods.

Consume a well-rounded diet
Even though IBD patients may need to avoid certain foods, they still need an adequate intake of calories and nutrients. Complex carbs should make up 50 percent of caloric intake. Between 25 and 30 percent of the diet should come from lean protein sources, such as meats, fish, poultry, eggs, smooth nut butters, and soy. Five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables are recommended daily; those best tolerated-cooked without skin and seeds-include butternut squash, carrots, asparagus, spinach, and sweet potatoes. Healthful fats, such as those found in flaxseed oil, fish, and monosaturated fats, such as olive oil and canola oil, should make up about 25 percent of total calories.

Consume an adequate amount of fluids. People with IBD should consume 8 to 10 glasses of fluids per day. Water is the best source of hydration, but diluted sports drinks are acceptable for athletes and those who are experiencing severe diarrhea.

Supplements
Most people with IBD can benefit from taking a multivitamin regularly. Daily calcium intake should be at least 1,500 milligrams, either in dietary form or as a supplement, taken in three divided doses; calcium citrate is a highly absorbable form of calcium. Almost 70 percent of people with Crohn's are deficient in vitamin D; a daily dosage of 800 international units is recommended, and you should have your vitamin D levels tested.

If you are deficient you will need a much higher dose. Since folic acid deficiency is also common in patients with IBD, particularly those taking the drug sulfasalazine, most should take a 1-milligram tablet of folate daily. Because fatty acids have been shown to reduce the inflammatory response associated with IBD, Tracie Dalessandro, RD, recommends that patients take fish oil or flaxseed oil (the omega-3 vegetarian source). Probiotics, which strive to put "good" bacteria back in the intestines, are crucial for those with Crohn's disease. Dalessandro recommends taking a daily probiotic capsule because, "You can't get enough just eating a yogurt." Soothing herbs, including slippery elm and boswellia, have also been shown to benefit those with Crohn's.

Daily probiotic supplements are crucial for crohn's patients.

If you've been diagnosed with Crohn's disease, or know someone who has, then you no doubt understand that living with this chronic disorder can be challenging. Many people, however, have never heard of Crohn's disease-or worse, may be unknowingly living with the condition themselves. A chronic disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, Crohn's and a related disease, ulcerative colitis-in which inflammation is limited to the colon-are the two main disease categories that belong to a group of illnesses called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America estimates that as many as 1.4 million Americans have IBD. Although there is currently no cure for these conditions, proper diagnosis and treatment can improve the health of those suffering from IBD and enable them to lead productive, active lives.

Difficult to diagnose
Crohn's and ulcerative colitis can afflict people of all ages, although these diseases tend to present themselves when people are in their teens or early 20s. Abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding are typical symptoms of Crohn's disease, which can involve any part of the intestinal tract, although it most commonly affects the small intestine or colon. The illness can cause appetite loss, weight loss, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Perianal discomfort-itchiness or pain around the anus-can also be a sign. In children, Crohn's can manifest as a growth failure and can lead to delayed sexual development.

"The disease can vary so greatly among people that it's sometimes difficult to diagnose," says Tracie Dalessandro, RD, a Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America speaker and advisory committee member, and author of What to Eat with IBD: A Comprehensive Nutrition and Recipe Guide for Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Dalessandro, who specializes in inflammatory bowel diseases, has lived with Crohn's for more than two decades. She was 19 when she first experienced symptoms, and it took two years before a gastroenterologist finally diagnosed her with Crohn's.

Treatment Options
Once a patient is diagnosed with Crohn's or ulcerative colitis, then they can start exploring treatment options. "IBDs are autoimmune diseases like arthritis or multiple sclerosis," says Dalessandro. "You need to control the inflammatory process." Many people opt for medication and are often told by their doctors that this is the only way to control the disease. This is not true. There are many natural alternatives that can help correct the underlying cause of the illness. Since Crohn's varies so wildly from patient to patient, you will get the best results by working with a naturopath (visit naturopathic.org to find a naturopathic doctor in your area).

Jordan Rubin, founder of Garden of Life nutritional supplements, cured himself of what was considered a terminal case of Crohn's disease by radically changing his diet (eating only whole, organic foods) and using nutritional supplements, particularly probiotics with homeostatic soil organisms (found in Garden of Life's Primal Defense). To learn more about Rubin's inspirational health journey, pick up a copy of Patient Heal Thyself.

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Product Examples

Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Vitamin D3 is a whole-food complex that provides vitamin D3 along with probiotics and enzymes, with no added binders.

Jarrow Formulas Ideal Bowel Support 299v contains a proprietary probiotic strain shown in clinical trials to alleviate symptoms of IBS and IBD.

ReNew Life Ultimate Flora Critical Colon Bifido Max 80 Billion is a maximum-strength probiotic formulated to help replenish beneficial bifidobacteria in the colon. This exciting, new product is now available at health food stores.

Natren Healthy Trinity provides 30 billion colony forming units of effective beneficial bacteria per capsule, including probiotic "super strains" with guaranteed potency.

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