The digestive tract is one of the most important parts of our body. It plays a massive role in digesting foods, absorbing nutrients, and getting rid of waste products. In addition, it also consists of 80% of our immune system. However, sometimes inflammation strikes the digestive tract. This prevents it from functioning to its fullest and compromises the overall health. This is exactly what happens when someone suffers from Crohn’s Disease.
Crohn’s disease was named after Dr. Burrill B. Crohn, a physician who was the first to describe the disease in 1932. Although this disease is quite similar to ulcerative colitis – another type of inflammatory bowel disease – there are some distinct differences between the two1. For instance:
Crohn’s disease affects different parts of the digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, rectum and anus. However, ulcerative colitis is located in the colon, generally starting from the rectum.
Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of all layers of the intestinal wall, and patches of this inflammation can be scattered throughout the digestive tract. However, ulcerative colitis causes inflammation in the innermost lining of the intestinal wall and stretches within the colon.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
As mentioned above, Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease which causes inflammation of the lining of a person’s digestive tract. It causes inflammation of different parts of the digestive tract, stretching from the mouth to the rectum. It usually occurs in patches, surrounded by healthy tissues, and can spread deeper into the tissues.
Crohn’s disease causes weight loss, fatigue, abdominal pain, and severe watery or bloody diarrhea, in addition to creating intestinal obstructions, ulcers, fistulas (hollow passages between the intestines), and anal fissures (cracks in or around the anus which can lead to infection). Moreover, Crohn’s disease can also cause a person to suffer from malnutrition, as it prevents the intestine from fully absorbing all the nutrients from foods.
Causes of Crohn’s Disease
What is surprising about Crohn’s disease is that scientists are not sure what causes it. However, there are some theories which aid the research on it. Some of these theories include:
Faulty immune system – A faulty immune system, caused by bacteria or a virus, can lead to Crohn’s disease.
Genetics – Genetics can also play a part in the occurrence of Crohn’s disease, as it has been seen that about a quarter of people who suffer from Crohn’s disease also have at least one close relative with the same disease.
Diet – It is believed that a diet high in saturated fat and processed foods can lead to Crohn’s disease.
There are six main risk factors for Crohn’s disease. Some of these include:
Age – Younger people are at most risk to develop Crohn’s disease, as opposed to older people. Most patients diagnosed with this condition started suffering from it before they turned 30.
Ethnicity – While no ethnic group is safe from this condition, having European (particularly Scandinavian) ancestry and being of Jewish heritage leads to having the highest risk of developing Crohn’s disease.
Family History – Those having close relatives suffering from Crohn’s disease are at risk of developing the condition themselves. Every 1 in 5 people suffering from Crohn’s disease also have a close relative suffering from the condition.
The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include diarrhea and abdominal pain. Other symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood and mucus in faeces
Statistics in the UK
According to a report by the BBC published in 20143, the number of Crohn’s disease patients has risen by a considerable margin. While there were less than 5000 patients between the ages of 16-29 years in 2003-04, that number rose to more than 19,400 in 2013. Currently more than 90,000 Brits are suffering from Crohn’s disease4.
Dietary changes for improvement
There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but it can be controlled and somewhat improved by making some dietary changes. Some recommended changes are:
Eating fruits and vegetables, lowering fat and eliminating sugar.
Avoiding dairy products, refined foods (such as pasta and white bread), fats and spicy foods.
Eating foods high in Vitamin B, calcium and magnesium (such as whole grains) and dark leafy greens (such as spinach and kale).
Stopping smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol.
According to Health5, the following supplements are tremendously important for those suffering from Crohn’s disease:
Crohn’s disease causes bleeding in the intestines, which results in a loss of hemoglobin. This reduces the amount of iron-laden protein in red blood cells and causes anemia. To counter this problem, iron is vitally important for Crohn’s patients. According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA)6, taking 8-27 mg of iron in pills or in liquid form, one to three times a day, can help.
Vitamin B12 is important for the body, as a lack of it causes weakness, fatigue and light-headedness. Crohn’s disease may damage the ileum (lower part of the intestine necessary for absorbing vitamin B12), which makes it necessary for patients to take B12 supplements.
Folic acid is essential for the formation of new cells. Drugs such as sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) and methotrexate can cause folic acid deficiencies, which has led to the CCFA recommending people taking sulfasalazine to take 1 mg of folate a day as a supplement.
Patients with this condition have trouble absorbing vitamin A, causing a lack of the vitamin in the body. This makes it important for patients to take vitamin A supplements and recover the lost vitamins.
According to a report by the CCFA, as many as 68% of people suffering from Crohn’s disease have vitamin D deficiency. This results in bone pain and weakened muscles. This causes doctors to recommend patients to have their vitamin D level checked annually and take supplements as needed.
Crohn’s disease often prevents the body from absorbing calcium. To counter this, patients are recommended to take calcium supplements to keep their bones strong.
Diarrhea from Crohn’s disease can deplete the zinc reserves of the body. This can result in slow growth, loss in appetite and also harm the immune system. This makes taking zinc supplements a necessity for patients.
Probiotic products have shown promising signs of reducing the risk of Crohn’s disease. As it contains lactobacillus acidophilus, it is recommended to take this as a supplement in the hopes of resisting Crohn’s disease.
Although the cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown and it has no known cure, it can be monitored to tone down its effects. Despite some people being at more risk than others to develop this condition, no one is really safe from it. However, making small changes to the lifestyle and dietary routines, in addition to keeping an eye out for its symptoms, can largely bring the condition under control.
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