Conquering Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis

  • 10 Nov 2009
  • Reading time 13 mins
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Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are auto-immune inflammatory diseases that can actually be diagnosed by the presence of inflammation along the digestive tract.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease - A Complex Equation

While there is no one universal therapy for inflammatory bowel disease a complex picture is emerging of a number of causative factors which, together, lead to inflammation of the bowel.

These factors include:

  • Genetically inherited tendency towards inflammation
  • Certain food allergies or sensitivities
  • Dysbiosis including bacterial imbalance and infections
  • Increased intestinal permeability
  • Eating too many pro-inflammatory foods and not enough anti-inflammatory foods.

Are You Auto-Immune?

Your immune system is designed to react to, not only unwelcome substances from the outside world, such as a viruses, harmful bacteria, pathogens and food allergens, but also to misbehaving cells such as cancer cells. But sometimes the immune system can attack healthy cells. This results in auto-immune diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Wrongly, many people think that since the immune system seems to be over-reacting that anything that could ‘boost’ the immune system, for example, vitamin C, could make matters worse. But auto-immune diseases are a ‘system-control’ problem and many of the foods and nutrients that help an immune system to work make matters better not worse.

In relation to ‘cause’ there are two sides of equation, being the cell and the cell’s environment. A classic example is coeliac’s disease, an extreme form of wheat allergy that is very common among sufferers of Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis and should always be screened for. This is an extreme reaction to gluten, and usually the gliadin protein, which is in wheat, rye and barley, but not in oats. (80% of coeliacs don’t react to oats). Susceptibility to coeliac’s is, in part, genetically inherited. For example, if your mother, father, brother or sister have coeliacs you have a one in four chance of having it too. It is far more common than most think. Many medical textbooks say in affects 1 in several thousand. However, studies involving a new diagnostic test called anti-tissue transaminase (ATG), finds that it affects 1 in 111. But for coeliacs to ‘cause’ disease you have to eat gliadin.

So that’s the other side of the equation – what you expose your cells to. For this reason, for any auto-immune disease, especially those of the gut, I always recommend a proper allergy blood test to find out both if a person is ATG positive and also to find out if their body is producing IgG antibodies or IgE antibodies, indicating intolerance to certain foods. The theory is that if the immune system becomes hyper-alert against foods it ‘cross-reacts’ against certain body tissues. So, the goal is to eliminate the food and lessen the immune system’s belligerent attitude. What’s interesting is that 80% of coeliacs don’t react to oats, which are not only gliadin-free but also a rich source of beta-glucans.

Beta-glucans, which are especially rich in oat fibre, may help lessen auto-immunity and improve general health in a counter-intuitive way. One of the prevalent theories as to why auto-immune diseases are on the increase is that we live in too clean environments and don’t get enough exposure to early bugs and bacteria. Most such microbes have beta-glucans present in their cell walls and beta-glucans consequently stimulate the immune system and help to build up normal, strong immunity. Many known immune enhancers – from shiitake mushrooms to Echinacea, are rich sources of beta-glucans. Beta-glucans appear to act as an immune system modulator and may also help auto-immune diseases.

As well as eating more oats and shiitake mushrooms you can get supplements of purified beta-glucans. Choose those that contain (1-3) (1-6) beta-d-glucans. Some colitis sufferers are rightly wary of eating high fibre foods but oat fibres are so-called soluble fibres and much more gentle on the digestive tract. If you soak oats, or saturate them as in porridge all the better.

One of the biggest promoters or demoters of gut-associated immune reactivity is the balance of omega3/6 fats in your diet. By increasing the proportional amount of omega 3 you literally switch off the gut’s over-reactivity. Being overweight, or insulin resistant also increase the gut’s inflammatory potential. So, a low GL diet really does help auto-immune diseases. One clear reason for this is the damage caused by too high sugar levels, called glycosylation, to proteins so that they may start to misbehave, or no longer be recognised as friend, but rather foe, by the body’s immune system.

These damaged proteins are called AGEs (advanced glycation end-products) and the more you have the more your immune system is likely to react. Particularly bad is fructose (fruit sugar) which the body finds harder to burn, or turn directly into fat than glucose. That’s why fructose is a bit more ‘slow-releasing’ because the body can’t process it as smoothly as glucose. This sounds like good news but more and more evidence is suggesting that high fructose diets, principally from fructose sweetened fizzy drinks, are messing up the body’s control functions. Small amounts are not so much of a problem because the body can metabolise fructose, but once it’s limit is exceeded fructose becomes a dangerous sugar. If you follow my low GL diet you will naturally be limiting your fructose intake to healthy levels. Another successful diet approach to auto-immune diseases is a ‘paleo’ diet, or a Stone Age diet. Before we became peasant farmers, so to speak, humanity lived on lean meat, seafood, plants, fruit, and nuts. We weren’t yet eating grains or dairy products and many people with auto-immune diseases report great improvements eating an essential grain and dairy-free diet. A paleo-diet is also naturally high in ......

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