This is my story of having Crohn's Disease and how I manage it with a natural approach.
Let me first start out by saying I am not a doctor or trained medical professional of any kind. I'm not suggesting you take my advice here. I'm merely sharing my journey with Crohn's Disease and in using a natural approach to managing it. I do not know if these things would help or hurt you, they are just what has helped me.
Crohn's Symptoms Begin
I had my second child by c-section in June 2006 (at the age of 35). Shortly after having him, like within a couple of weeks, I started having gastrointestinal issues. I knew my body was healing from the pregnancy and I just didn't think there was anything seriously wrong. I dealt with the issues, which at times felt like I was going to pass out on the toilet or I'd have terrible pain in my stomach. Within a month of him being born, we moved to a different state, so I never saw a doctor about any of it. Yet the problems continued and I merely got used to them and dealt with them as they came.
The problems I experienced was that not long after I would eat I would have terrible bouts of pain, gastrointestinal issues, etc. It would come and go so frequently that when a bout started I just kind of hunkered down for a few hours and waited for it to pass, living with the misery and not knowing what it was from. Then in September 2013 on my daughter's birthday we went out to dinner. Right after that meal I started feeling bad. I thought it would pass in a bit, as usual, but it didn't. It got worse and worse. I was in extreme pain all night and was throwing up. I knew it had to be something serious. When morning hit (because I didn't want to wake my family), my husband took me to the emergency room.
At the hospital, they put an NG tube in my nose, which is a horrible process. The tube goes down to your stomach and empties all the contents. They ran some tests and could not make up their mind if it was food poisoning or a bowel obstruction (I later learned it was indeed a bowel obstruction). One year later to the month, the same exact thing happened. I knew it was the same thing happened to me before. I went to the emergency room and this time the doctor took one look at my tests and said "It looks like you have Crohn's Disease."
I have what?
I had no idea what Crohn's Disease was. I had never heard of it before. They gave me referral information to a nearby gastroenterologist and said to go there for testing and follow up to confirm it. In the weeks that followed, I saw that gastroenterologist, who performed numerous tests (endoscopy, colonoscopy, x-rays, ultrasounds, etc.). She concluded that what she saw was "consistent with Crohn's Disease." All she wanted to do is put me on medication, there was no discussion of anything I could or should do to try and manage the condition outside of taking medication, much to my disappointment.
Please keep in mind that through all of this, I never had health insurance. We are a family that falls through the cracks for health insurance. We make too much to qualify for any type of help, but not enough to afford paying the ridiculous health insurance premiums (I checked this year during open enrollment and just for me it is $800/month and a $12,000 deductible). So I amassed a lot of bills from ER trips ($8,000 each) and all the doctor's visits and testing (over $3,000). Even with paying those bills, it's still more affordable for paying the health insurance premiums that I'm quoted, which shows you how messed up our system is. Anyway, that day she gave me two prescription drugs she wanted me to take. One to take for just two weeks and one to take for the rest of my life.
I took the prescriptions to the pharmacy, although I was hesitant, because I'm not someone who likes to take prescription medications. At this point I had been a vegetarian for many years and a vegan for the last several years. The pharmacist said the one for the two month period was $3,000 and the one that she wanted me to take for the rest of my life was $400 per month. I about fall over and said I won't be filling them. A couple of weeks later I am back in the doctor's office for a follow up and she asks about the medications. I explain the situation, that the fees are absolutely not something that I cannot afford, and that I don't like to take medications. I ask what type of natural approaches I can take to help manage it.
She says to her assistant and writes in my chart that I'm "non-compliant" and doesn't help me a bit. That was the last time I saw her. If you didn't want to take medication for the rest of your life then she had no interest in going further.
My Natural Approach Journey
At this point, I saw that if I wanted to take a natural approach to managing Crohn's Disease, I would need to do the research on my own to figure out what to do. I've come to realize that a gastroenterologist doesn't make money off of you taking a natural approach, so they are not going to recommend it. They make money from tests, treatments, prescriptions, etc. So, I began my journey of researching a great deal to see what I could to to help myself.
I've learned a lot over the years. Crohn's Disease is largely an unhealthy bacterial issues in the intestines. People may have a genetic predisposition to the disease, and then something in the environment triggers it to become active. It leads to inflammation of the bowel. It's important to change the gut flora so that you can have healthy intestines.
Here are some of the things I do to help manage Crohn's Disease naturally:
- I take two Garden of Life Omega Zyme digestive enzymes with every meal. There are other brands of enzymes, but this is the one I use. Before, I would get pain and cramping from food. With these, I can pretty much eat anything. They have honestly been a total game changer for me. I eat my meal, take two of these, and then I'm good. Gone is the pain and cramping. It's rare now that I have pain once I started taking these regularly. I love them! They help your body digest the food, which for me eliminates the pain. I started taking them around a year ago and there has been an amazing improvement in that time.
- I keep apple cider vinegar on hand at all times. It's honestly one of the best tools for me to help with Crohn's Disease discomfort. Before I discovered the digestive enzymes, I used to use this when I was in pain. Now, I rarely use it, but it's there for when and if I need it. Whenever I feel a "blah" or discomfortable feeling that is gnawing at me, I take a shot of apple cider vinegar and within 15 minutes I'm feeling good. I put one tablespoon in about 4 ounces of water, drink it down, and then rinse my mouth out. Make sure if you buy apple cider vinegar that it is "with the mother" which means it has stuff floating around in it. You need the floaties. I don't use a specific brand, but I do like these little individual bottles, because I don't have to have a big bottle opened at once and these work well for when we go camping. I always take a smal. bottle camping, just in case it is needed.
- I have learned to avoid or minimize foods that I know could be troublesome. This varies for every person who has Crohn's Disease. You have to figure out what type of foods give you trouble and then avoid or minimize them. Why put something in you that you know is going to cause pain and discomfort? For me, I can't eat much spicy food. I like spicy food, but it doesn't like me back. If I eat much of it I will likely be in a pain and it may lead to flair. Therefore, I may have a bite here or bite there of spicy food, but otherwise I avoid it. Another one is nuts and popcorn. I love them both and I do still eat them both. However, I limit the size of my serving of them so that I don't overwhelm my system with too much at once, and I make sure I chew it up very good.
- While I don't have flairs much anymore (knock on wood), when I had them more often I would try to eat specific foods during them. I would stick with things easily digested and somewhat bland, such as smoothies, soups, ramen, mashed potatoes, etc.
- I try to avoid nutritional yeast. This is one that I wish I had known years ago, but I didn't learn it until about a year ago. Nutritional yeast is not only bad for those with Crohn's, but it's also under suspicion for triggering it. The problem is that vegetarians and vegans largely worship nutritional yeast (not me, but others). Read more about the problems with nutritional yeast for those with Crohn's Disease here.
- While I haven't had to do it at all since I started taking the digestive enzymes a year ago (knock on wood), I used to do intestinal massage when it felt like things were having a really difficult time digesting. If I had some pain and it felt like something was getting stuck, I would lay down and do an intestinal massage. The massage works for constipation, too. To see a video on it, click here.
- I take probiotics, but not on a regular basis. They are good for putting healthy bacteria in your gut, but if I take them daily I feel like my body gets used to it and it becomes less effective. That's just my opinion, it may not be backed by science at all. So I keep a bottle of probiotics in the refrigerator and I take one per week. Once in a while I'll also pick up a bottle of kombucha or I eat gut healthy foods like sauerkraut.
- I try to live a healthy lifestyle. October 1995 will be 25 years that I have been a vegetarian/vegan. For the last several years, I am a vegetarian who is primarily vegan. I will eat non-vegan pizza and birthday cake, but otherwise I pretty much eat everything vegan. All the cooking I do is also vegan. According to the information at NutritionFacts.org (which I trust), a plant based diet is the best diet for those with Crohn's Disease.
- I meditate every day for at least 10 minutes. I've read the research on meditation and it's a great simple and free tool for those with Crohn's. Stress makes Crohn's worse, but meditation helps keep the stress away. Plus, I watched a medical video before where the doctor was discussing meditation and she said that doing it regularly can help to turn off the receptors that are responsible for Crohn's. I've meditated for years now. Read more about my meditation practice here.
- I also exercise regularly. Around 5.5 years ago now I became a runner. Not only did weight slowly come off, but it helped make me healthier. Running improves your gut microbiome and help control inflammation, and running is meditation. If you want to read about my one year anniversary of a runner how I had gotten started, click here. Running is not for everyone, but it is important that you exercise regularly. It provides many healthy benefits.
- I try to eat fruits, veggies, protein, and some whole grains. Personally, I prefer to stick with white rice, white pasta, and white bread. My stomach feels better with those instead of the whole grain kind. Plus, I think that they taste better than their whole wheat counterparts, and I haven't been convinced that they are so bad for you. White rice has sustained billions of people in the world throughout history. It seems that only in America the "whole wheat" versions are pushed onto people. But I do eat a lot of fruit, vegetables, and good sources of protein (tofu, seitan, quinoa, beans, etc.). I drink unsweetened beverages with the exception of when I have pizza (then I have a mini can of Coke with it). (My family still eats whole wheat bread though)
- I pay attention to Vitamin D. There are numerous research studies, including this one, that have pointed to the fact that Vitamin D is crucial for those with inflammatory bowel disease. I try to get some sun exposure when possible and I take a vegan Vitamin D most days of the week.
These are the things that have helped me and that I stick with over the years. I know others with Crohn's Disease and I'm on online groups where people share their stories. I know people who have had bowel resection surgery and then a year later they feel bad again. I know people who have taken the expensive medications only for them to not work. Not that they don't for everyone, but it seems hit or miss. I feel that I'm often better off than many others who have the condition and maybe that is because of the natural approach that I take to managing it.
This past January, I found a new gastroenterologist and I had an endoscopy and colonoscopy. When I had the tests done seven years prior, the tests showed I had ulcers, polyps, several areas of inflammation, and other issues. My intestines had multiple issues that were wreaking havoc on me. This new test revealed that most problems had healed and were gone, except for one small spot of inflammation. One small spot! The gastroenterologist said that everything looked healthy, except for that one spot. That was great news to my ears!
However, the doctor still wanted to put me on a long term medication, to try and clear up that last small spot of inflammation and keep it from spreading further. He said he'd like to put me on Humira. He knew I didn't have any health insurance, so he explained that it cost around $25,000 per year. Wow! I declined and said that I still prefer to take a natural approach to addressing it. He is not a fan of it, and I get that, but again I say that these doctors don't make money selling people a natural approach. They make money by keeping you coming back for appointments, tests, surgeries, and being on medications long term.
At this point, I'm sticking with taking a natural approach to address Crohn's Disease. It's worked out well for me for the last seven years since being diagnosed. I'm feeling better now than I have in the last 14 years since my son was born and all of the gastrointestinal problems started. Between paying more attention to my diet, regularly exercising and meditating, and taking digestive enzymes, I am feeling good! Until and if there is ever a cure (and that I can afford it) this is what I will stick to if I'm able to.