JEWELS: Given a choice between taking an expensive drug for life, that may bring with it a host of other serious side effects, or seeing if adapting our diet can heal or at least aid in healing chronic health issues, I for one, would choose eating my way to good health any day! The trouble is we get advice thrown at us from so many sources, often conflicting. So how do we circumvent all the misinformation out there, and uncover what really works?

Baring the truth

At the beginning of the summer I announced on Facebook that Dr. Samantha has kindly offered to write a guest post on the real skinny of what we need to change in our diets to heal chronic health issues. The response was so great that she decided to do several guest blog posts, breaking them down by medical condition. Since there were a couple people asking about how to navigate eating with Crohn’s disease, and I know first hand how miserable life is when you have symptoms – I asked Dr. Samantha to start with Crohn’s. What should and shouldn’t we eat? And also, can the disease be treated through diet?

DR. SAMANTHA: My answer is applicable to anyone with any kind of chronic gastrointestinal disorder.* Don’t be deterred from reading just because you don’t have Crohn’s! Truth be told, most people can benefit from decreasing their inflammatory load and we should all know a bit about how to do this.

Crohn’s disease, or regional enteritis, involves severe inflammation in parts of the intestine. It can lead to diarrhea, pain, and problems with nutrient absorption. I’ve worked with countless patients with this and similar conditions and I can say without hesitation that diet plays a pivotal role in both healing and prevention of symptoms. And, as I mentioned above, the approach I take with diet for Crohn’s is similar to that of any chronic gastrointestinal conditions including ulcerative colitis and IBS. And, although it is always individualized, there are some basic tenets that will apply to everyone with these conditions. Once we do this, it is often possible for patients to re-introduce healthy foods that were once bothering them, like dark chocolate, vegetables, and even some spicy food!

1. Remove irritating foods

2. Heal the lining of the intestine (this can often be done with supplements but in some cases it does need to be handled with medication.)

3. Follow an anti-inflammatory diet, including both foods that are generally likely to be inflammatory, and foods that cause you to respond with inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory foods: wild fish fat as found here in sardines

To manage any kind of inflammation in your body (think “-itis” gastroenteritis, sinusitis, arthritis, tendinitis, etc), it’s important to get your overall inflammatory load down, as well as to figure out which foods are actually causing a problem for you, personally. It’s common for gastroenterologists to tell their inflammatory bowel patients that their diet has nothing to do with their illness and as long as they stay away from high fiber foods that they can eat whatever they feel like eating. They often will even encourage patients to eat foods that we know are inflammatory because it will help them gain weight, which is often an issue for those with chronic diarrhea.

As a naturopathic physician this is the opposite of my approach. In my experience, it is easy to gain weight with healthy foods if you need it, you just need to learn the ins and outs.

Anti-inflammatory foods: cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli

So what is an anti-inflammatory diet? This would be a post unto itself. I can heartily recommend my colleague Jessica Black’s book to learn some basics. Typically it includes avoiding refined sugars and grains, gluten, dairy, and making sure that animals you eat are raised on their natural diets and without added chemicals and hormones. Dr. Black recommends avoiding pork entirely but I tend to be a little more flexible with that for patients who want to include a little bit in their diets. Another class of foods that many physicians recommend eliminating for an anti-inflammatory plan are the nightshade vegetables: tomato, potato, peppers, and eggplant. These are foods that I will tend to let patients try to reintroduce once their symptoms are resolved for a period of time.

If symptoms are bad, I will go beyond a simple inflammatory diet and also recommend doing an elimination diet, removing the foods that may cause irritation. There are a number of different approaches to doing this but I typically have people follow it for 4-6 weeks or until they are feeling well (this can be up to 3 months.) We then reintroduce foods one at a time to see how each food impacts both the digestive system and the rest of your body.

It’s best to do this under the care of a physician who has experience with this process as it can be complicated and individualized.

When it comes time to start working on healing the lining of the intestine we work with supplements including but not limited to probiotics, soothing herbs, and amino acids that actually repair the lining of the intestine.

I’d choose eating my way to health over maintenance drugs any day!

Then on the other side, once symptoms are better, you can avoid the foods that irritate you and focus on the foods that make you feel healthy and vibrant. I personally follow an anti-inflammatory diet 98% of the time because it just makes me feel better, period. And I am also a foodie who loves to cook and eat out at great restaurants. Is it sometimes challenging? Yes. But the result is that you have yourself back. And nothing beats that, right?

* I’ve got to mention, of course, that this post should be taken as general information and not medical advice. It does not imply any patient/physician relationship as obviously I can’t give individual medical advice on a blog!

 Dr. Samantha Brody is a licensed naturopathic physician, acupuncturist, and owner of Evergreen Natural Health Center in Portland, OR. When she’s not seeing patients or blogging at http://DrSamantha.com/blog, you can find her cranking out her upcoming series of books on hormone health and balance for women in their 20s and 30s. She’s a powerhouse speaker and has been a featured expert in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal.

Connect with her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/drsamanthaND) and Twitter (@DrSamanthaND) or sign up for her newsletter athttp://drsamantha.com.

 

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  • July 31, 2012
    5:38 pm

    Thank you for this. A good friend suffered from this disease with intense pain, rapid weight loss and the exhaustion. The drugs side effects were worse than the pain but this kind of diet saved his life. Knowing the help is at the nearest grocery must be a huge relief on the road to recovery.

  • July 31, 2012
    5:01 pm

    As a fellow Crohnie who has been on the extremely expensive drug regimen for 7 years, i want to thank you for this entry. It can be very difficult to find alternatives to Western medicine for this under-researched disease, so it is great to see such helpful info about food and Crohn’s. I think I’ll print it out and start working toward a full-on anti-inflammatory diet.

    • July 31, 2012
      6:28 pm

      Stacey – I stumbled onto the miracles of an anti-inflammatory diet when I had a broken ankle, and every time I stood on it long enough to work, it would swell like crazy. Just a few days into my anti-inflammatory cleanse, and the swelling was gone. It really got me thinking about how I wished I’d known about the cleanse when I was ill with Crohn’s.

      As Dr. Samantha says – getting into remission may take a combination of diet, supplements, and medication, but once you are there I truly believe you can manage it with diet and a healthy lifestyle. I’m 11 years in remission now, and I have not taken any maintenance drugs.

      BTW, you are completely correct that what works for one person may not for another, and that is why it is important to work with someone like Dr. Samantha to help you figure out what the irritating culprits are in your diet. She will be offering Skype consults soon for anyone interested?

      • July 31, 2012
        6:48 pm

        I would certainly be interested in the Skype consults. I have a great GI doc, but a guiding hand from a neutrino-based perspective would be great.

        I was put on a low-residue diet years ago mid-flare, and that seems at least similar to the anti-inflammatory approach. It always seemed so ironic to me that it was nearly all the best-for-me foods that were the worst for me during active Crohn’s. But I’m willing to try anything and make big changes if it will help me be able to wean off the super-pricy drug infusions.

        Thanks for all you do, Jules!

      • August 1, 2012
        10:26 am

        Hey Stacey. I’d say that sometimes it’s possible to get off meds, and sometimes not. But it is always possible to get people feeling better, stronger, and making choices that line up with what their real health values.

        If you pop over to my website http://DrSamantha.com and sign up for my newsletter you’ll be notified of the skype consults when they’re up and running. And if you’d like info sooner, you can also email me. :)

  • July 31, 2012
    6:32 pm

    SO true, and all the more reason why it is penny wise and pound (or dollar) stupid not to buy genetically modified, pesticide, hormone and anti-biotic free food whenever possible. Trust me, the groceries may be more expensive, but it will save you a fortune in medical bills!

    • August 1, 2012
      10:27 am

      Yes! Eat real food.

  • August 1, 2012
    9:33 am

    Thank you so much for providing this information, Jewels, Dr. Samantha.

    I look forward to reading future posts!

    Is there a possibility of covering issues such as as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and weight loss?

    • August 1, 2012
      10:29 am

      I hope to be able to do some additional posts for you all down the pike a bit. I’ll make a note of your requests!

  • August 1, 2012
    10:03 am

    Thank you for the url to her blog! I’m always open to non medicinal ways of controlling health issues.

  • August 1, 2012
    6:05 am

    Julie Anne,
    Thank you so much for this post and for bringing more awareness to Crohn’s Disease. It truly is a devastating disease, as I know you have lived through yourself. This past April, my cousin passed away from Crohn’s related complications. He was an otherwise healthy 46-year-old and a loving father and husband. I also have another cousin whose wife has been battling the disease since she was a teenager and has suffered terrible effects from the drugs she has been on over the years. I do believe that diet has everything to do with help and controlling Crohn’s and that doctors do not stress this enough to their Crohn’s patients. Dr. Brody provided some very useful information.

    • August 1, 2012
      9:48 am

      Chrissy – it wasn’t until I was sick that I realized all drugs are toxins, and I have serious side effects from the ones they had me on too. That is what provoked me to start learning more about alternative means of fighting disease, and why working with someone like Dr. Samantha Brody, in conjunction with my GI makes such perfect sense!

  • August 1, 2012
    9:52 am

    Hi Jodi – Dr. Brody is super busy, so we will have to wait and see how many specific issues she has time to address here, but I know she will be launching virtual consults soon, so you will be able to go to her for help directly. You might also want to follow her blog at http://DrSamantha.com/blog.

    • August 3, 2012
      7:50 am

      Thank you, I signed up for her blog!

  • August 1, 2012
    10:36 am

    It goes hand in hand with being aware of what is being done to our food supply, making informed decisions on what you purchase, and being willing to pay more for real food to save immensely in the long run.

  • August 2, 2012
    12:32 am

    Hi Jules,
    what a thoughtful thing you did to let us know about Dr Brody..mu husband suffers from chronic inflammation of the J pouch, last year he underwent colectomy and we’re at loss about finding the right diet for him…nothing seems to work and he’s on a steady course of antibacterial medicines…
    I will sign up to her newsletter..
    Thank you again Jewels, no name was more aptly chosen, you are a real jewel!

    • August 4, 2012
      10:44 am

      Aw, thank you, and I hope Dr. Samantha can help your hubby!

  • August 3, 2012
    4:46 am

    I remember working with a man who’s wife had Crohn’s Disease and she was always very poorly. My, how he loved and cared for her and the frustration he felt when he couldn’t do more. Very interesting and informative blog post.

  • August 4, 2012
    10:47 am

    Dr. Samantha is doing really interesting work, and it is certainly the direction I want my medical care to go.

  • August 4, 2012
    10:43 am

    Me too!