IBD stands for inflammatory bowel disease, which refers to a group of chronic inflammatory autoimmune diseases. According to Crohn's and Colitis UK charity, Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC) are the most prevalent of those, affecting more than 300,000 people in the UK. I have chosen this topic simply that I'm interested in any form of gastrointestinal issues but also from the point that I have seen patients suffering from IBD on conventional medication with no particular improvement in their symptoms nor their quality of life. Unfortunately, IBD as being a chronic condition of inflammatory nature, traditional therapeutic interventions reveal limited effectiveness.
Although there are some differences in pathological manifestations to distinguish CD and UC, clinical intestinal symptoms include diarrhoea and/or constipation, abdominal pain and cramps, occasional presence of blood and/or mucus in the stool, tiredness and fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, mouth ulcers, and feeling of being 'generally unwell'. The initial cause of IBD is not very well understood but triggers of IBD development may include genetic and environmental factors, prenatal and early childhood antibiotic use, alterations of gut microflora, increased intestinal permeability or alterations of immune homeostasis.
Allopathic medicine can effectively reduce symptoms of IBD but is limited to solve long term relief and maintenance of remissions. Fortunately, complementary therapies take far more holistic and systemic treatment approach to manage IBD conditions. I'm going to list a few here:
1. NUTRITIONAL THERAPY
Dietary changes are number one strategy to cope with IBD manifestations in long term management, including acute flare ups and remission periods. Food is something we consume daily to provide energy and nourishment to thrive, not to suffer from poor choices. It has been found that the reduction/elimination of food groups typical of Western diet may aggravate IBD conditions. Such includes red meat, dairy, refined sugar, wheat and processed ready-meals with various additives. Instead, semi-vegetarian and anti-inflammatory diets, including high-fibre, vegetable, fruits, legumes and fermented foods intake is highly recommended to reduce systemic and local inflammation. Gluten-free diet is also advised in some cases as gluten may act as a trigger of intestinal inflammation. Therefore, exclusion diets are recommended to identify food sensitivities and trigger foods in overall.
Medicinal mushrooms have been found to posses immuno-modulating effect, thus altering the cell-mediated immune response of gastrointestinal mucosa causing inflammation. Mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans (responsible for immune modulation), triterpenes (highly anti-inflammatory), and vitamins, minerals and amino acids favourably to target nutritional deficiencies caused by IBD conditions.
Herbal medicine can offer localised and systemic approach of IBD management. The herbs used in the treatment are to support and regulate digestion, improve intestinal mucosal healing, reduce local and systemic inflammation, modulate overactive immune responses, reduce stress or anxiety associated with IBD, and reduce abdominal cramping and pains. The choice of herbs as always depends on the etiological factors, stage, localisation and symptoms of IBD, plus adjacent conditions of the patient. Herbs of choice would be for instance, turmeric, frankincense, slippery elm, marshmallow root, calendula, plantain, echinacea, astragalus, liquorice, holy basil, skullcap, dandelion root or artichoke.
4. OPTIMISING GUT MICROBIOTA
Imbalances of gut microflora can most likely trigger IBD flare ups. However, it’s important to distinguish what imbalance is affecting areas of the gut. In general, the consumption of pre-biotic foods improves optimal bacterial colonisation and eating vegetables such as leaks, onions, oats, bananas, dandelion leaves, and fermented foods is recommended.
5. EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
Genuine support and encouragement of family and friends are also very important of those suffering from IBD conditions. It can be incredibly difficult to restrict ourselves to certain diet or specific treatment protocol.
The aim of the treatment strategy to tackle IBD is to minimise flare ups, maintain remission periods as long as possible, target nutritional deficiencies, and possibly reduce medication intake if that’s the patient's desire. In overall, lifestyle changes of the individual are then necessary to optimally and effectively manage symptoms of this silent and invisible conditions.
Love and hugs,
DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended to provide a medical advice to cure IBD conditions. For the most appropriate treatment suitable, please consult your practitioner or herbalist, and do not take herbs without supervision.
Crohn's and Colitis UK Charity: https://www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk
Medicinal mushrooms: https://hifasdaterra.co.uk/learn/
Best prebiotic foods: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/19-best-prebiotic-foods#section17