What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory condition characterized by irritation and swelling of the gastrointestinal tract. This bowel disease is a lifelong condition and is directly a result of the immune system attacking the cells of the digestive tract which leads to chronic inflammation.1
People with Crohn’s disease go through periods of remission; this is when symptoms are under control. Though there are no cures for Crohn’s disease, there are several options available to ease flare-ups.2
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease can vary from person to person, but the main symptoms include:
- Diarrhea: will range from very mild to severe (blood/mucus or pus may be present)
- Changed appetite: appetite loss may happen at times
- Pain: The level of pain varies from person to person; many people indicate pain in the lower right side of the abdomen.
- Ulcers: ulcers may form in the gut; this will be indicated by blood in stools as raw areas can bleed.
- Mouth ulcers: common symptom
- Anemia: because of blood loss
- Fatigue: extreme tiredness along with a fever is frequent in those that suffer from Crohn’s disease.
- Anal fissures and rectal bleeding: The skin surrounding the anus develops cracks, which will lead to bleed and pain.
- Weight loss: This can be a result of loss of appetite.3
Can you prevent Crohn’s Disease?
You cannot prevent Crohn’s disease, but a combination of lifestyle changes and medical management can keep this disease in remission. Most people with Crohns disease can manage flare-ups and reducing the severity of symptoms.
Changing your diet
Nutrition and diet are an integral part of managing inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease, though there is not a specific diet that will work for everyone it is important to note taking care of your overall health and well-being. This is because without adequate nutrition the symptoms of Crohn’s disease can lead to malnutrition and other complications e.g., nutrient deficiencies. Here are some recommended diet changes to manage Crohn’s disease.
Research has shown dairy products such as milk and cheese can worsen the symptoms worse, due to the presence of lactose which exacerbates inflammation. Crohn’s disease can damage the small intestine and disrupt the production of lactase, which can lead to difficulty in digesting dairy.4 It is therefore advised to reduce or completely remove dairy from the diet, but this means ensuring calcium and other vitamins found in dairy are received from other sources.
Make sure your diet is rich in fiber
Dietary fiber is essential for managing Crohn’s disease, studies have shown consuming 23 grams of fiber a day can reduce the risk of a flare-up by 40%.5 Foods rich in soluble fiber ease symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, and stomach cramps by soaking up excess fluid in the gut, and this form of fiber will also ease the digestion. During the remission phase, it is advised to consume a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits.
Many people with Crohn’s disease have found gluten to be a trigger for flare-ups, studies have shown that 65.6% of patients that avoided gluten found improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms.6 Furthermore, adherence to a gluten-free diet was linked with considerable improvement in fatigue symptoms among those that suffered from Crohn’s disease. This is because gluten contributes to the leaky gut syndrome, a condition where the small intestine allows undigested foods and toxins to pass through to the bloodstream. Another reason removing gluten is advised is due to many people with Crohn’s disease have undiagnosed gluten sensitivity or allergies.
Those with Crohn’s disease are advised to reduce alcohol intake as alcohol can cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract and worsen the existing symptoms. One study showed that 75 % of those with Crohn’s disease reported exacerbating symptoms after the consumption of alcohol.7
This is because of the properties of alcohol such as it being a diuretic, which leads to dehydration and stimulation of the intestines. The carbonated nature of some drinks may also cause gas and discomfort. Many health professionals advise those with Crohn’s disease to reduce alcohol intake as alcohol can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, particularly beer which additionally causes abdominal pain in a significant number of people with Crohn’s disease.8
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, commonly referred to as NSAIDs can have an adverse effect on Crohn’s disease. Medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium should be avoided, this is because research has shown these medications can contribute to intestinal ulcers and can trigger flare-ups, which can increase bleeding and inflammation of the small intestine.9
Research indicates that smoking can make symptoms of Crohn’s Disease worse.10 Smokers are not only more likely to have flare-ups but have more severe symptoms such as fistulas. This is because tobacco contains thousands of toxins and chemicals such as carbon monoxide and nicotine which can affect the gut. Smoking these chemicals will decrease blood flow in the intestines and affect the immune system which can lead to inflammation. For this reason, health professionals advise that quitting smoking is beneficial for those with Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease is a lifelong inflammatory condition that is not entirely preventable but can be managed with a combination of medical and habitual interventions. Reforming your diet by adding fiber and nutritious foods can reduce the severity of symptoms. Furthermore, avoiding certain items such as alcohol, medications, and nicotine can reduce the frequency of flare-ups and manage this condition. Many people that make lifestyle changes can live active and healthy lives.
- What is Crohn's disease? [Internet]. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. [cited 2022 Sep 9]. Available from: https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-crohns-disease
- Crohn’s Disease [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 9]. Available from: https://crohnsandcolitis.org.uk/info-support/information-about-crohns-and-colitis/all-information-about-crohns-and-colitis/understanding-crohns-and-colitis/crohns-disease
- Crohn’s disease – Symptoms – NHS [Internet]. NHS.UK. 2017 [cited 2022 Sep 9]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/crohns-disease/symptoms/
- The best dairy choices for Crohn's disease [Internet]. EverydayHealth.com. [cited 2022 Sep 9]. Available from: https://www.everydayhealth.com/crohns-disease/diet/the-best-dairy-alternatives-for-crohns-disease/
- What should I eat? [Internet]. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. [cited 2022 Sep 9]. Available from: https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/diet-and-nutrition/what-should-i-eat
- Relief IBD. Gluten and IBD | Crohn’s & colitis [Internet]. IBDrelief. [cited 2022 Sep 9]. Available from: http://www.ibdrelief.com/diet/role-of-diet-in-inflammatory-bowel-disease/trigger-foods/gluten-and-ibd
- The social network and online support group for parents of kids with ulcerative colitis, and those living with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. | MyCrohnsAnd [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 27]. Available from: https://www.mycrohnsandcolitisteam.com/resources
- Alcohol and Crohn's: safe? Or a cocktail for agony? [Internet]. Greatist. 2021 [cited 2022 Sep 9]. Available from: https://greatist.com/crohns/alcohol-and-crohns
- Causes of flares [Internet]. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. [cited 2022 Oct 27]. Available from: https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/emr/emr-ibd-education-tool/causes-of-flares
- Smoking and Crohn's disease | IBD clinic [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 9]. Available from: http://www.ibdclinic.ca/ibd-and-lifestyle/smoking-and-ibd/smoking-and-crohns-disease/