Have you been suffering from excessive diarrhea and abdominal pain on a regular basis? You might have Crohn’s disease. However, there’s good news. You can treat this condition naturally with a Crohn’s disease diet, along with making other lifestyle changes.
What is Crohn’s disease, exactly? This inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. It’s estimated that 1.4 million Americans suffer from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (collectively known as inflammatory bowel diseases or IBD). (1)
Crohn’s disease can seriously get in the way of everyday life with the possibility of it being both painful and debilitating. Sometimes, it even leads to life-threatening complications. Your doctor will tell you how there is no known cure and likely prescribe you a medication that comes with a plethora of scary side effects. Thankfully there is hope for sufferers in the form of holistic medicine.
If you suffer from Crohn’s, don’t lose hope! The dietary guidelines and natural remedies I’m about to present to you have done wonders to help Crohn’s sufferers to take back control of their health. Because much like the IBS diet and ulcerative colitis diet can treat those IBD conditions, the Crohn’s disease diet can do the same with this gastrointestinal tract issue.
The Crohn’s Disease Diet & Natural Treatment Plan
Crohn’s disease treatment, the natural way, involves making a number of scientifically proven changes to your lifestyle and diet. Here are some of the top ways I recommend you start healing your body and improving Crohn’s disease symptoms, starting with learning about which foods are apart of a Crohn’s disease diet.
Crohn’s Disease Diet:
The National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases states that health care providers recommend several types of specific diet plans for helping to control Crohn’s symptoms. These include:
- High-calorie diets
- Lactose-free diets (removing dairy products)
- Low-fat diets
- Low-fiber diets
- Low-salt diets
The type of diet that works best depends on your ability to digest and absorb minerals, bacteria, fats, fiber and certain types of carbohydrates. People with Crohn’s react differently to these food groups depending on what type of medications they might be taking, their level of intestinal inflammation, and the extent to which they produce or don’t produce different digestive enzymes.
- Avoid classic problem foods — Food sensitivties vary from patient to patient but commonly include spicy and fried foods, refined foods like white breads and pastas, carbonated drinks, alcohol, and caffeine. Wheat products (gluten), cereal grains such as corn and oats, dairy products, pork, onions and yeast also all tend to make Crohn’s symptoms worse. (2) Research published in Gastroenterology and Hepatology shows that a diet low in fat and fiber (known as a LOFFLEX diet) tends to be highly effective at treating Crohn’s, with some studies finding that up to 60 percent of patients go into remission within 2 years.
- Eat a healing diet — If you suffer from Crohn’s, I strongly recommend following the Healing Foods Diet, which decreases inflammation (the No. 1 dietary goal with Crohn’s), alkalizes the body, lowers blood glucose, eliminates toxins and optimizes nutrient intake. Changing and improving your diet is one of the most important, controllable and natural things you can do to improve inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease. The healing foods diet consists of eating roughly equal amounts (33 percent each) of clean protein sources, healthy fats, and low-glycemic carbohydrates in the forms of fruits and vegetables.
- Limit dairy — Many people with Crohn’s find that gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, abdominal pain and gas improve when they limit or eliminate dairy products. Some people are also lactose intolerant, which means they can’t digest the milk sugar (lactose) in dairy foods. And while the lactose in dairy hasn’t been shown to necessarily make Crohn’s worse, the fat content in dairy can inflame the condition. (3)
- Be careful with high-fiber foods, including raw fruits and vegetables — For some people suffering from Crohn’s, consuming high amounts of fiber, especially from raw fruits and vegetables, can be too difficult for their compromised systems to handle. Don’t skip your fruits and veggies altogether however, just eat them cooked whenever possible. Some Crohn’s sufferers have trouble with foods in the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.), nuts, seeds, corn and popcorn. (4) Keeping a food diary can help you see what works and what doesn’t for your particular case of Crohn’s. This way you don’t eliminate a healthy food (for example broccoli) unnecessarily in your Crohn’s disease diet if you don’t actually need to.
- Increase prebiotic intake — Consuming more prebiotics, a special form of dietary fiber that promotes the growth of healthy bacteria (probiotics) which combat bad bacteria, is a smart idea for people with Crohn’s disease. (5) Prebiotic foods include things like asparagus, bananas, honey and oats, all of which make excellent addition to any Crohn’s disease diet. However because prebiotics are a type of fiber, it’s important to monitor your systems and pay attention to how you feel. If particular prebiotic foods, or foods high in fiber, are causing worsened symptoms then try subbing in other foods until you find what works.
- Eat smaller meals — If you want to avoid a Crohn’s disease flare-up, it’s best to stop overloading your body with over-sized meals. By eating smaller meals you put less stress on the gastrointestinal tract, which can help reduce some Crohn’s symptoms like bloating, gas and cramping. You can try eating smaller meals more often throughout the day, rather than 2-3 big meals, to help with absorption of nutrients, improving energy and controlling symptoms.
- Drink enough fluids − It’s possible to lose a high amount of fluid due to frequent diarrhea. Make sure to drink at least 8, 8 ounce glasses of plain water per day. Caffeine-free herbal tea, bone broth and kombucha are also good choices, since these not only provide water but also electrolytes, amino acids and probiotics.
Avoid artificial sweeteners — A 2018 study published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases revealed that the artificial sweeteners sucralose (otherwise known as Splenda) and maltodextrin intensify gut inflammation in mice with Chrohn’s-like disease. Artificial sweeteners increased the presence of Proteobacteria — microbe bacteria found in E. coli, Salmonella and Legionaelles — in individuals suffering from Chrohn’s or other inflammatory bowel diseases and is the primary cause of increased white blood cell enzymes in the gut. According to the study, “about 10–15 percent of human patients report that sweeteners worsen their disease.” (6)
Crohn’s Disease Supplements
- Probiotics — Taking a daily, high-quality live probiotic supplement — in addition to consuming probiotic foods — supports your body’s immune system, improve digestive function and mineral absorption. Probiotics have been shown to help people with Crohn’s disease reduce the incidence of diarrhea. (7) A good probiotic also encourages enhanced synthesis of vitamin B12 (studies suggest people with Crohn’s often suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency and/or folate deficiency), calcium and vitamin K2 ,and support digestion of difficult substances like gluten and lactose.
- Slippery elm — Slippery elm is an herbal remedy and demulcent (a substance that protects irritated tissues and promotes their healing). It contains mucilage, a substance that becomes a slick gel when mixed with water. This mucilage coats and soothes the mouth, throat, stomach and intestines, making it excellent at calming Crohn’s flare-ups. (8)
- Curcumin — With anti-inflammatory properties, studies have found that people with inflammatory bowel disease who took curcumin reduced their symptoms and their need for medicines. Various clinical studies have suggested that curcumin might be a potential candidate for the prevention and/or treatment of a variety of colonic diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and colonic cancer. (9)
- Glutamine — Glutamine is an amino acid found in the body that that helps the intestine function properly. Since it’s good for overall intestinal health, it can offer help for Crohn’s. (10) It’s best to take glutamine on an empty stomach.
- Omega-3 fatty acids — Omega-3s like those found in fish oil can help fight inflammation and reduce the chances of recurrence of Crohn’s. Studies have been mixed, but some sufferers find omega-3s to be helpful. (11)
- Real multivitamin — Because Crohn’s disease can interfere with your ability to absorb nutrients, it’s often a good idea to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement. (12) You don’t want just any multivitamin, though. Make sure it’s a real food multivitamin that contains beneficial minerals, and avoid multivitamins with dangerous substances, such as Centrum vitamins.
Essential Oils for Crohn’s Disease
- Frankincense essential oil — Frankincense essential oil speeds up the secretion of digestive enzymes, increases urination production, relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract and also helps to improve circulation. Overall, it improves digestive health and has been shown to be beneficial in reducing symptoms of Crohn’s disease as well as leaky gut syndrome, chronic colitis, ulcerative colitis and IBS. (13) Add one to two drops of oil to eight ounces of water or to a tablespoon of honey for GI relief. If you’re going to ingest it orally, make sure it’s 100 percent pure oil, and don’t ingest fragrance or perfume oils.
- Lemongrass essential oil — Lemongrass essential oil can help relieve pain from gas irritation in the stomach and bowels. Lemongrass has anti-inflammatory properties that come from the limonene that’s present. Inflammation is associated with just about every health condition, including Crohn’s disease, and since lemongrass fights inflammation, it makes a great addition to any Crohn’s disease diet. (14) Adding one to two drops of lemongrass oil or infused lemongrass water to your tea or soup can treat stomach pains, nausea and diarrhea.
Other Natural Crohn’s Disease Treatments
How exactly stress plays a part in contributing to IBD is still up for debate, but experts agree that stress can trigger symptom flair-ups, worsen digestive health overall, and increase the chance of experiencing complications.
Of course stress is a part of daily life, and not all stress is going to be within your control, however there’s a lot you can do to reduce your reactions to stressful events. Regular exercise, getting adequate rest, taking time to relax, spending time outdoors, and fostering supportive relationships can make a huge impact.
The Importance of Reducing Stress:
- Exercise regularly — Regular exercise helps expel built-up tension, stress hormones and clears the mind. Exercise helps to release endorphins, the brain’s natural feel-good chemicals. In addition, it may even diminish some symptoms of IBD. (15) I recommend burst training for the most health benefits of exercise, but any combination of aerobic/cardiovascular, strength-training, and flexibility exercise is beneficial.
- Take a deep breath — Try deep breathing for a few minutes every day to reduce chronic muscle tension and spasming that can contribute to cramping. Tighten and hold your abdominal/shoulder muscles, then release them slowly as you breath out; this process releases nitric oxide and improves blood pressure. Managing stress in similar ways with a combination of deep breathing or mind-body exercises can help manage Crohn’s disease symptoms. (16)
- Schedule relaxation — Write it down in your daily planner, and stick to it. Make time at least once a week (or ideally once a day) to do something you love, something that refreshes you. Maybe that’s a game of tennis, spending an hour alone with a good book, or taking a yoga/meditation class to practice your breathing.
Crohn’s Disease Symptoms, Risk Factors & Causes
Although there is not one definitive, agreed-upon cause of Crohn’s disease− and each individual case is different− a poor diet and high amounts of unmanaged stress are common among people with IBD and other digestive disorders.
Other possible causes include heredity and toxin, virus or bacteria exposure. Crohn’s disease is more prevalent in people who have family members with the disease, and also seems to affect people with weakened immune systems most often, since this can be related to autoimmune reactions (when the body mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissue in order to try and protect itself from threats).
Common risk factors for Crohn’s and IBD include:
- Young-middle age: Crohn’s disease can occur at any age, but the majority of people are diagnosed before the age of 30.
- Eating a poor diet: Processed foods, spicy foods, fried foods, dairy products, sugar, alcohol and/or caffeine can all contribute to inflammation and Crohn’s disease.
- High amounts of stress: Stress has been shown to make IBD (and also IBS) symptoms worse and trigger flare-ups. Stress changes digestion and immune function in a negative way, lowering immunity, raising inflammation, altering hormones and changing the way muscles in the GI tract operate.
- Having a family history of IBS: As many as one in five people with Crohn’s also have a family member with the disease. (17)
- Long term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications: these ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve, Anaprox), diclofenac sodium (Voltaren, Solaraze) and others.
- Being of Caucasian, Eastern European (Ashkenazi) or Jewish descent
- Taking oral contraceptives long-term or antibiotics frequently
Although Crohn’s most drastically impacts the lining of the GI tract, the inflammation associated with IBD often also spreads to other parts of the digestive system, and even causes widespread symptoms throughout the body.
The most common signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease include: (18)
- Diarrhea and loose stools
- Intestinal cramping and abdominal pains
- Fatigue, or periods of very low energy
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in the stool, or producing stool that is darker than normal
- Mouth cores, canker sores and ulcers
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Perianal disease (inflammation near the anus)
- Irritation and inflammation of skin, eyes and joints, liver or bile ducts
- Some children who develop Crohn’s at a young age also experience delayed growth, delayed puberty/sexual development
Final Thoughts on the Crohn’s Disease Diet
- Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract.
- Unpleasant and common symptoms of Crohn’s include severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, reduced appetite and weight loss.
- Many factors can contribute to the development of Crohn’s. One out of five people who develop Crohn’s have a family history − but that also means that four out of five don’t have a genetic component to their disease.
- There are many ways you can prevent and control Crohn’s flare-ups, so despite how you might feel the disease is at least partially within your control. Dietary and lifestyle changes are critical for healing Crohn’s naturally.
- Adoption of a therapeutic Crohn’s disease diet, proper supplementation, stress management and avoidance of NSAIDs or antibiotics are some of the best natural ways to send Crohn’s into remission (hopefully for good).