What is IBD?
IBD is the name given to a group of disorders that cause the intestines to be chronically inflamed. Crohn's Disease (CD) and Ulcerative Colitis (UC) are two very common types of IBD. In CD, ulcers (open sores) are seen along the length of the large and small intestines. CD usually spares the rectum. In UC, ulcers are present in the lower part of the large intestine (often affecting the rectum). It is estimated that both of these diseases affect up to 1.4 million people in the U.S. and, although IBD can affect people of any age, they are most commonly diagnosed in adolescence and young adulthood. Once diagnosed, IBD usually lasts throughout a person's lifetime. However, with proper lifestyle recommendations, you may be able to experience a better quality of life. Typically, patients experience long periods of time without symptoms, but acute attacks occur from time to time.
What are the symptoms of IBD?
Symptoms may include:
Abdominal cramping and painInability to have a bowel movement despite the urge to do soBloody diarrheaRectal bleedingWeight loss
What causes IBD?
Researchers have not been able to identify a single common cause in all individuals who develop IBD. Because of this, you must be treated as an individual with a unique set of circumstances that may have predisposed you to develop a condition labeled as IBD by conventional medicine. The most common factors that are thought to be involved in the development of IBD include:
-Certain lifestyle habits o Diets high in trans-fats (such as margarine and fast foods) and refined sugar can increase your risk of developing CD and UC. o Smoking
-Immune Function o It is thought that people with IBD have an abnormal immune response, which can be a result of poor lifestyle choices and frequent antibiotic use. With IBD, the immune system is over-reactive to the normal bacteria and flora in the gut and fails to shut off, resulting in inflammation. Chronic inflammation causes damage to the GI tract, resulting in the symptoms experienced during the course of the disease.
-Genetics o There is a higher genetic predisposition of developing CD as opposed to UC. There is a 5-8% risk of developing CD if a family member has it, but again...you inherit your body type AND how you cope with stress, eat, and many habits from your family of origin. These habits can be unlearned too.
How is IBD diagnosed?
Based on your symptoms, your medical provider may suspect that you have CD or UC. You will be sent to have a colonoscopy so the digestive tract can be visualized by a GI specialist. This is essential for diagnosis, but little help when it comes to treatment and prognosis. Assessing the key functions of your digestive system (Digestion, Elimination, Microflora, Gut Integrity) helps direct your medical provider to the underlying cause of your IBD. A colonoscopy and a Comprehensive Diagnostic Stool Analysis (CDSA) are both important diagnostic tools for uncovering the root cause and focusing treatment for IBD.
Treatments for IBD
Conventional Medicine focuses on reducing inflammation and providing symptom relief. There are a variety of medications that are prescribed that do this, but none address root causes.
Sulfasalazine for inflammation
Prednisone for inflammation
Azathioprine and mercaptopurine for immune response suppression
Metronidazole (an antibiotic) may be used for CD
In addition, symptomatic relief of diarrhea, constipation and pain will be addressed with anti-diarrheals, laxatives, and pain relievers.
All of these medicines have serious known side effects, and some may not be tolerated. Surgery is used for severe cases. This explains why half of all patients with IBD use some kind of alternative medical therapy. Natural therapies, when used alone, or in conjunction with conventional therapies, have been shown in studies to lower the risk of side effects and help patients attain remission for a longer period of time.
Functional Medicine approaches treatment of IBD differently than the conventional medical model. This type of personalized medicine uses treatments that address the underlying root cause of IBD, instead of just treating symptoms alone. Functional medicine considers the role environmental toxins, diet, and nutritional imbalances play in pre-disposing a person to IBD. The "4 Rs of Digestive Health" will be implemented according to the individual person. The "4 R's" are:
Remove (fixing the elimination function of the GI tract): Remove the allergens and toxins causing trouble through detoxification and elimination diet and remove harmful organisms if they are present. A CDSA (Comprehensive Diagnostic Stool Analysis) test will be necessary in the diagnosis to know if harmful organisms are present in the GI.
Replace (fixing the digestion function of the GI tract): Replacing stomach acid if it is low or digestive enzymes if they are insufficient.
Re-inoculate (fixing the microbial balance function of the GI tract): Re-inoculate with pre and pro-biotics to restore balance to the digestive system.
Repair (fixing the gut integrity of the GI tract): Repairing the gut wall is essential to recovery and sustained health with an inflammatory condition in the gut.
Nutritional supplements you are given and the dietary protocol you follow should achieve three main treatment goals: (1)Reduction of inflammation, (2) Nutrition for intestinal cell growth, (3) Strengthening the immune system and liver function
How to screen for GI health related illness:
Take the following questionnaire and score it as instructed. How healthy is your digestive system? Point Scale:
0 = Never or almost never have the symptom 1 = Occasionally have it, effect is not severe 2 = Occasionally have it, effect is severe 3 = Frequently have it, effect is not severe 4 = Frequently have it, effect is severe
HEAD ____Headaches ___Dizziness ___Insomnia ___Faintness ____TOTAL
EARS ___Itchy ears ___Ringing in ears/ loss of hearing ___Earaches/ ear infections ___Drainage from ear ____TOTAL
EYES ___Bags or dark circles under eyes ___Watery or itchy eyes ___Swollen, reddened, or sticky eyelids ___Blurred or tunnel vision (excluding near- or far- sightedness) ____TOTAL
NOSE ___Stuffy nose ___Sinus congestion, sinus infection ___Constant sneezing ___Hay fever/allergies ___Excess mucus formation ____TOTAL
MOUTH/THROAT ___Chronic coughing ___Sore throat, hoarseness, loss of voice ___Gagging, frequent need to clear throat ___Swollen tongue, gums, or lips ___Swollen lymph nodes ___Canker sores, mouth ulcers ____TOTAL
HEART ___Chest pain ___Irregular or skipped heartbeat ___Rapid or pounding heartbeat ____TOTAL
LUNGS ___Asthma, bronchitis ___Chest congestion ___Shortness of breath ___Difficulty breathing ____TOTAL
SKIN ___Acne or brown "age/liver spots" ___Hives, rashes, cysts, boils ___Eczema or psoriasis ___Itchy skin/dermatitis ___Hair loss, hair thinning ___Body odor ___Excessive sweating ____TOTAL
JOINTS/MUSCLES ___Pain or aches in joints or lower back ___Stiffness or limitation of movement ___Arthritis ___Pain or aches in muscles ____TOTAL
MENTAL/EMOTIONAL ___Poor memory ___Difficulty concentrating ___Mood swings ___Depression ___Anxiety, fear, or nervousness ___Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness ___Insomnia ____TOTAL
ENERGY LEVEL ___Fatigue/low energy ___Restlessness ___Hyperactivity ___Feeling of weakness ____TOTAL
WEIGHT ___Underweight ___Overweight ___Difficulty losing weight ___Crave certain foods ____TOTAL
OTHER ___PMS ___Frequent colds, flus ___Chemical or environmental sensitivities ___Food allergies/sensitivities ____TOTAL
Please add the numbers from each section and write the section total in the spaces provided, then add all the section totals together and put that total in the space below.
Interpreting Your GRAND TOTAL Toxicity Score:
15 or lower: You have a low level of toxicity. 16 to 49: You have a moderate level of toxicity. 50 or higher: You have a high level of toxicity.
Keesha Ewers is the owner of Fern Life Center and is a Certified Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP) with a specialty in primary care or family practice (FNP). She also has a Master's degree in Ayurveda and is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner.