When you have Crohn’s disease, digestive problems – including stomach pain, diarrhea, and bloody poop – are an inevitable part of life. And unfortunately, that’s not even the full picture of the unpleasantries you must deal with (1, 2). There’s 24/7 fatigue. Mouth sores. Oh, and let’s not forget the fever attacks that sneak up on you at mid-day, throwing your perfectly planned schedule off-kilter. Yep … Crohn's disease doesn't let you forget that you have it. However, that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do to manage your symptoms.
Medical experts and research agree that a combination of medications, therapies, and lifestyle changes can make it possible for individuals with Crohn's to achieve remission, where symptoms improve or disappear entirely. Below, find a few management tips that’ll help you live a full life with Crohn’s.
#1: Keep stress under control
While the cause of Crohn's disease remains unknown, studies suggest that individuals with the condition may have malfunctioning immune systems that accidentally harm their digestive tracts (3, 4, 5, 6). Here's an easier way to think about it. Your immune system has many types of cells. Some can cause inflammation, and those that can suppress it. Under normal circumstances, these cells work together to defend the body from infection. In individuals with Crohn's, however, research suggests that this system can become faulty – in which there are now too many inflammation-causing immune cells in the gastrointestinal tract (7).
Considering this, keeping the inflammation levels in your GI tract to a minimum should be your priority. But how? Well, one of the easiest ways to do that would be by managing your stress levels. According to a 2016 review published in Current Opinion in Psychology, stress causes the immune system to produce an inflammatory response, which can worsen the existing inflammation already found in your GI tract (8). Hello, worsening symptoms! So, here are a few things you can do to feel less stressed out: making time for yoga and meditation, exercising regularly, and getting 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night.
Wait … what about right now? If you’re looking to get yourself in a chill mode pretty much immediately, consider taking a supplement that contains one of the most potent stress-busting herbs around: ashwagandha (e.g., Dr. Danielle’s Stress Lift).
#2: Keep a food diary
There’s no specific diet (i.e., “eat this, not that”) that’ll help control Crohn’s disease. It all comes down to the individual; foods that might trigger flare-ups for one person can be totally fine for others. Thus, highlighting the importance of finding out what works best for you. This can be done by keeping a food diary – where you log down your symptoms as you add or remove certain foods from your diet. And while there aren’t universal problem-causing foods across everyone dealing with Crohn’s, you might want to make the process easier for yourself by first addressing the “usual suspects”.
For instance: foods that are high in artificial trans fats, like fried fast food, certain margarine, and packaged cookies. Why, you ask? Well, it's because artificial trans fats – unlike naturally occurring ones found in dairy and meat – are known to increase the body's inflammation levels (9, 10, 11, 12). Another "suspect" to target would be foods high in added sugar, including candy, chocolate, soft drinks, and sweet pastries. As with artificial trans fats, high sucrose and fructose intake have been shown to increase several inflammatory markers in both mice and humans (13, 14, 15, 16, 17). And at this point, you should be familiar with what increased inflammation means when you have Crohn’s. That’s right. Worse symptoms.
#3: Load up on anti-inflammatory foods
Don’t just direct all your attention to cutting out “problematic foods” from your diet! As it turns out, there are plenty of anti-inflammatory foods that can help get your Crohn’s symptoms under control. For example, wild caught salmon – which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect. According to a 2019 review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers found that omega-3 fatty acids helped reduce intestinal inflammation and led to disease remission in a handful of participants with ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease similar to Crohn's) (18).
Another food to try is the antioxidant-rich (i.e., "inflammation-fighting") seaweed. In addition to containing vitamins A, C, and E, seaweed boasts a wide variety of beneficial plant compounds, including flavonoids and carotenoids, all capable of protecting your body's cells from inflammatory damage (19, 20). Fun fact: the main carotenoid found in wakame (a type of seaweed), fucoxanthin, has 13.5 times the antioxidant capacity as vitamin E!
Speaking of antioxidants … yet another dietary addition you can consider would be turmeric. Research spanning the past 2 decades suggests that curcumin, the bioactive compound found in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory properties that may be helpful for individuals with Crohn's (21). Admittedly, though, turmeric is definitely an acquired taste. So if you’ve exhausted all methods of masking turmeric’s taste in your recipes – to no avail – then try Dr. Danielle’s Turmeric Curcumin. Just pop the pills in your mouth, and you're done.
#4: Improve your gut health
It’s a well-known fact that people with inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s, have a lower gut microbiome diversity (i.e., fewer strains of gut bacteria) than healthy individuals do (22, 23). Recently, though, scientists are beginning to realize that things go deeper than just gut bacteria diversity. The balance of “good” vs. “bad” bacteria in the gut can also play an important, contributing role to the development of Crohn’s disease. So, what does that mean for you? Simply put … if you're looking to keep your condition well-controlled, exploring ways to improve your gut health is a wise idea. First: increasing the diversity of your gut microbiota. To do that, make sure you eat a diet consisting of different food types (i.e., a “varied” diet) – including nuts, poultry, fish, and plant-based foods (24, 25, 26).
And to re-balance your gut microbiome, well, there's no better way you can do that than to get probiotics – “good” gut bacteria – into your system. According to this 2013 study, for instance, researchers found that probiotics can help increase the number of anti-inflammatory compounds in the gastrointestinal tract (27). But, interestingly enough, that wasn't the highlight of the study. A more promising finding that came out of the same study was that probiotics could even help to "repair" the damage Crohn's disease causes to the intestinal barrier (i.e., what's known as the "leaky gut") – in turn, preventing bacteria and toxins from entering your bloodstream, then causing widespread inflammation, in the first place (28). It basically stops inflammation right in its tracks!
While probiotics can be found naturally in fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, for many they aren’t the most appetizing additions to your plate. Luckily, Dr. Danielle’s Probiotics offer you an easy (and pleasant) way to get those good bacteria into your gut! Oh, and don’t forget to boost the probiotics’ barrier-repairing effects by supplementing with Dr. Danielle’s Gut Assist, too!
#5: Quit smoking
You might want to consider this before you light up your next smoke: the evidence tying cigarettes to Crohn's disease is mounting. People who smoke are at a higher risk for the condition – and are more likely to experience severe symptoms if they develop Crohn's (29). While researchers aren’t sure of the exact mechanism through which smoking worsens the inflammatory bowel disease, it’s thought that cigarette damages protective mucous membranes in the digestive system, increasing the risk for inflammation. Ready for some good news? Here it goes. Research also shows that those who have Crohn’s and quit smoking subsequently experience fewer Crohn’s symptom flare-ups, including diarrhea and abdominal pain (30). And there it is, your sign to (finally) quit smoking.
Worried that your motivation to quit will wane in the face of withdrawal symptoms? Something that might help is nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). What NRT does is that it gives you nicotine – in the form of gum, patches, sprays, inhalers, or lozenges – so you can better focus on the emotional aspects of quitting smoking. Treatment with NRT usually lasts 8-12 weeks before you gradually reduce the dose and eventually stop altogether. Importantly, research shows that using NRT can nearly double your chances of successfully quitting smoking (31).
It’s possible to achieve – and maintain – remission
On days you feel like everything you’re doing to control Crohn’s disease (e.g., making lifestyle changes and undergoing your prescribed treatment plan) is pointless … just know this: remission is possible. Numbers don’t lie. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, it’s estimated that about 50% of people with the condition will be in remission or have mild disease over the 5 years after diagnosis and treatment (32). Fifty percent! But, of course, you'll have to stick to the plan – including working with your local naturopathic physician to find the proper treatment for you, taking medications as prescribed, and quitting smoking – to get there. Don’t give up; keep going.