Inflammatory Bowel Disease: When your body fights itself
To find your nearest Crohn’s or colitis support group, contact 1800 138 029 More than 75,000 australians have either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, but many of us know little about it. HFG looks at the role that diet can play.
Our bodies demonstrate an incredible ability to keep disease and infection at bay. But sometimes, for sufferers of autoimmune diseases such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), this system goes awry, turning its defences on itself. Such conditions are often described as ‘invisible’: you look fine on the outside, but inside a war’s going on. the result is the destruction of cells or tissues essential to your body functioning smoothly.
What is IBD?
IBD affects the gastrointestinal tract and creates chronic inflammation of the bowel. Unfortunately for those who have it, the condition lasts a lifetime.
The inflammation occurs in waves of activity and remission, so sometimes you’re well, but during a flare-up you’re in a lot of discomfort or pain. When the disease is active, it can be so severe that you end up in hospital or even need surgery.
The symptoms of IBD vary, but common ones include stomach pain, diarrhoea, fatigue and even weight loss. Some people have symptoms that manifest outside of the gastrointestinal tract, like joint pain or osteoporosis. Some might also experience inflammation in their eyes or skin.
There are two main types of IBD:
This only affects the inner lining of the large bowel and rectum. Most people with this type of IBD don’t experience serious complications.
This affects the full thickness of the gut wall and can occur in any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. Crohn’s disease can lead to serious complications, such as an obstruction, or the development of abnormal channels in the gut. Click here for our Chrons diseases case study.
How IBD is treated?
Currently there is no cure for IBD, but you can manage it by using medication to dampen down your immune system and reduce inflammation. Sometimes surgery is needed to help with any complications that arise.
What causes it?
The cause of IBD is unknown, but several factors are thought to play a role, including genetics, the environment, the immune system and smoking (particularly for Crohn’s disease). Stress, diet and food allergies aren’t thought to be a cause, but there is conflicting evidence about this.
What role does nutrition play?
There is no specific diet for IBD — however it’s important that you enjoy a balanced, varied diet and maintain a healthy weight. during a flare-up, the only rule is to consume food as tolerated. However, you can use your diet to help manage IBD symptoms during a flare-up. Often, your doctor or dietitian will prescribe a short-term, low-fibre diet while your digestive system is inflamed.
For those with Crohn’s disease, a low-fat or low-FODMAPS diet could be beneficial. In severe cases, some people can only tolerate liquids.
As Crohn’s disease can affect different locations along the gastrointestinal tract, nutritional deficiencies can arise, but the type depends on the specific location of the inflammation. So people with Crohn’s should be monitored for malnutrition, and deficiencies addressed as they arise — on an individual basis. Luckily for those with ulcerative colitis, nutrient absorption isn’t usually affected, as it impacts a different part of the tract.
The future looks bright
Dietary modification of gut bacteria is an emerging field in the treatment of IBD. Researchers are also investigating the use of turmeric, on its own or alongside other nutrients, to help reduce inflammation in people with IBD. overall, results look promising!