Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD
Mar 28, 2022
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases - What are they and how do you treat them?
In recent years, more attention has been given to gut health and the impact it has on your other body functions. When your gut health suffers, it often affects the rest of your body and even your mental health. Inflammatory bowel disease is on the rise, more and more people are suffering the consequences, and it’s not clear why this is happening. The good news is recent research has provided more insight into the possible causes and effective treatments for these diseases,
What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the name that describes several diseases characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (GI). It was believed that the inflammation was an autoimmune disorder but there’s a new hypothesis. More research is being done on whether chronic intestinal inflammation is the body’s way of trying to fight off harmless viruses, good bacteria, or even certain types of food that live in the gut.
Types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
There are two main types of IBD: Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
A person with Crohn’s disease may have inflammation in any part of the GI tract, which starts at the mouth and ends at the anus. However, for most people with Crohn’s Disease, the inflammation is located in the colon or the ileum, which is the last section of the small intestine. The inflammation usually occurs in patches and can spread to deeper layers of the bowel. The disease usually progresses gradually but can become severe and cause serious complications.
A person with Ulcerative Colitis often has ulcers and inflammation beginning in the lower colon and rectum, which may spread to the entire colon (large intestine). The inflammation doesn’t affect the deeper layers of the colon and is consistent (not patchy) where it’s located. Like Crohn’s, it usually progresses slowly over time but can lead to serious complications.
There are subtypes of ulcerative colitis based on where it’s located:
- Ulcerative Proctitis: Inflammation is only located near the rectum and may have no other symptoms than rectal bleeding.
- Proctosigmoiditis: Inflammation is located in the rectum and sigmoid colon.
- Left-sided Colitis: Inflammation is located in the rectum, sigmoid colon, and descending colon
- Pancolitis: Inflammation is located in the entire colon.
Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis have many of the same symptoms but they differ in some ways:
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease can produce a variety of symptoms including:
- Abdominal pain
- Mouth sores
- Bloody stool
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Pain around the anus
A person with Crohn’s Disease may also experience inflammation of the skin, eyes, joints, bile ducts, and liver, as well as kidney stones, and anemia. In children, sexual development might be delayed.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative Colitis has a variety of symptoms including:
- Diarrhea that may contain blood/pus
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Urge but an inability to have a bowel movement
- Bleeding from rectum
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis are often mild to moderate but can become severe. It may cause a delay in the growth of children.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease Demographics
Anyone can be diagnosed with Crohn’s or Colitis but the age group with the highest rate of diagnosis is 15-35. Twice as many children are diagnosed with IDB as adults. Ulcerative Colitis affects slightly more males than females in the U.S. while Crohn’s affects slightly more females than males. Whites are the ethnic group with the highest rate of IBD diagnosis, followed by people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.
Possible Causes and Triggers of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
What causes IBD remains a bit of a mystery. We don’t know for sure what causes it but scientists have discovered some factors that may increase your chances of developing it, and what may exacerbate it.
It’s been observed that Crohn’s is more common in people with family members who also have the disease, which could point to heredity playing a role. However, the majority of people with Crohn’s have no family history of it, so it’s probably not the main cause.
Dysfunctional immune system
In the past, IBD was thought to be caused by your immune system trying to attack a virus or bacteria that triggers an abnormal response, causing it to attack your gut as well. There hasn’t been a virus or bacteria identified that would cause such a response.
People who smoke are twice as likely to develop IBD than non-smokers. In people who have IBD, smoking is a common trigger for inflammatory flare-ups. Smoking can alter your gut bacteria, affect gene function, and cause changes in the immune system.
Complications associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Crohn’s and Colitis may lead to other medical complications:
Pain, discomfort, and diarrhea may stop you from wanting to eat and it can make it difficult for you to absorb all the nutrients you need. This often leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, especially Iron and B-12.
A fistula is an abnormal connection, which can form between your intestines and other organs or between your intestines and your skin. Fistulas start as ulcers, and then the ulcer deepens until it’s moved through the intestine. This can cause your bowel to drain to your skin. In severe cases, abscess forms, which can be life-threatening.
Both the medications doctors may prescribe to treat IBD, and over-the-counter options, come with risk factors of their own. Some medications reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune system. This comes with the small risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as skin cancer and lymphoma.
Lesions in the GI tract can eventually cause scarring and thickening of the walls, which narrows the path, making obstruction more likely during digestion. It may require surgery to correct.
Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
We often think of the mind and body as separate, but they have a direct impact on each other. The gut-brain axis is where the interaction between the two occurs. It sends messages in the form of neurotransmitters back and forth, affecting both your gut health and mental health. Serotonin, which is largely associated with happiness, and GABA, which helps control anxiety, are two neurotransmitters that the gut and brain communicate with.
When your brain senses inflammation in your gut, it closes the door between the two, presumably to prevent the inflammation from spreading to the brain. This could lead to mental health problems.
How to Treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease
10 Diet and Lifestyle Tips for Managing Inflammatory Bowel Disease
While you can’t cure IBD by changing your diet and lifestyle, you can make the condition more manageable by following some helpful tips:
- Start by eliminating all foods that may have triggered you in the past. Consider a low-fiber or liquid diet until your inflammation calms down.
- Try a low- “FODMAP” diet. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo- Di- Monosaccharides Polyols. This diet avoids sugars that your GI tract may not easily absorb. This includes ingredients such as lactose, fructose, sorbitol, mannitol, sugar polyols, and fructans, found in leeks, onions, artichokes, wheat, and some legumes.
- Avoid caffeine found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, and some sodas.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Avoid smoking.
- Keep your blood sugar stable by eating small, frequent meals.
- Limit your dairy intake.
- Reduce your physical and psychological stress.
- Avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
Probiotic Therapy for Inflammatory Bowel Disease
With the increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, probiotic therapy is becoming the preferred treatment by medical researchers to get conditions like IBD under control. Probiotic therapy involves ingesting non-harmful, living bacteria to alleviate or prevent digestive tract illnesses. It’s the same bacteria that naturally live in a healthy person’s gut, which is important to ensure safety and prevent pathogenic illness.
Probiotic blends for IBD contain probiotic bacteria and other ingredients to help prevent and relieve symptoms and promote gut health:
- Lactobacillus casei helps your body break down food, absorb nutrients, and fight pathogens. It’s also used to prevent and treat diarrhea.
- Bifidobacterium infantis helps reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and maintain a healthy balance of bacteria.
- Turkey tail mushroom extract contains powerful antioxidants, which may help strengthen your immune system, reduce inflammation, and fight certain types of cancer. It also contains prebiotics, which nourish the probiotics.
- Ginger has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects.