Crohn's, IBS, Ulcerative Colitis
Before We Begin
Occasionally, despite all attempts at modesty, I gotta crow. A just released study reinforces the value of the antioxidant resveratrol. The study showed that resveratrol not only seems to confer longer life, but a more active life too -- with motor skills that actually appear to improve as you age. You can be sure that a number of nutritional companies will now jump on the Resveratrol bandwagon; but for what it's worth, Resveratrol has been a major component of my Ultimate Antioxidant™ for the last three years. Okay, that's it for my bragging.
Crohn's, IBS, UC, etc.
Just a few days ago, the results of a study were released by an international scientific team, including a group from the Johns Hopkins University. Although the study focuses on identifying a gene mutation that appears to protect against Crohn's disease in some patients, its importance lies in what it tells us about the whole range of digestive disorders, from Crohn's disease to ulcerative colitis, from diverticular disease to irritable bowel syndrome, and from ulcers to colon cancer.Before we go there, however, let's look at the study in a little more detail.
It wasn't until 2001 that scientists first identified a major gene identified with Crohn's. Called Nod2, the gene regulates the immune system's response to bacteria in the gut. Although there may be no particular bacteria responsible for Crohn's, your body's general response to unhealthy bacteria in your intestinal tract seems to be a major contributing factor. People with one flawed copy of the gene have twice the normal risk of developing the disease. Two flawed copies and the risk jumps 20 to 40-fold. The new study, though, found a gene mutation at the opposite end of the spectrum -- a gene mutation that may actually help protect against Crohn's. So what's the value of this discovery? As Dr Judy Cho, the study's senior other said, the discovery will mostly benefit drug companies. "There's no lack of drug targets for Crohn's disease. This helps the companies prioritize." But she also cautioned (thank you) that scientists might have to tread carefully, since tinkering with the body's natural inflammation response could boost a person's infection or cancer risk. "We don't know what the 20-year effect is," she said. (Again, thank you very much.)
The Explosion of Intestinal Disorders
Crohn's is one of a whole range of intestinal disorders that stem from similar causes. These include ulcerative colitis, diverticular disease, irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut, spastic colon, polyps, fistulas, and colon cancer, etc.. Crohn's itself can affect people of any age, but is more commonly diagnosed in a younger population. Inflammation and ulceration occur primarily in the terminal ileum and colon, although any portion of the intestinal tract can be affected. Its cause is unknown in the medical community, but suspects include genetics, microbes, inflammation, and the immune system. To this point, there are no known medical cures, just symptom management. It tends to be chronic and progressive, often leading to repeated non-curative surgery.
Current statistics indicate that approximately 1 million Americans suffer from Crohn's. It affects men and women equally, with a majority of cases diagnosed in adolescents and young adults ages 15-35 years. Crohn's disease predominantly affects Caucasians; with a prevalence rate of 149 per 100,000, although there has been a steady increase in reported cases of Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (also known as IBD, or Irritable Bowel Disease) among African Americans. IBD is largely a disease of the industrialized world, especially the United States and Europe, and is more common in urban areas and northern climates (although, like most modern epidemics, it seems to be spreading rapidly throughout the third world). Crohn's does have a known genetic component, with 25 percent of Crohn's patients having a family member with some form of IBD. Statistics also indicate that those with a sibling with IBD are 30 times more likely than the general population to develop IBD. Crohn's also tends to run in certain ethnic groups, especially Ashkenazi Jews.
Signs and symptoms of Crohn's Disease are similar to those for ulcerative colitis: frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain appearing soon after meals, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, and fistula (abnormal connections between tissue). Some sufferers also experience significant rectal bleeding.
The incidence of Crohn's has exploded since it was first diagnosed in 1932. It was thought that the incidence had leveled off during the 1980s. However, more recent studies indicate that, like virtually all other digestive disorders, it continued its explosion, but now in all ethnic groups and in all parts of the world.
- IIncidence of paediatric Crohn's disease in Stockholm, Sweden.
- Epidemiology of Crohn's disease in Israel: a survey of Israeli kibbutz settlements.
- Epidemiology of Crohn's disease in the Rijeka-Istra region.
- Epidemiology of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis in a central Canadian province: a population-based study.
It is also now clear that although genetics may give some populations a pre-disposition to most digestive disorders, including Crohn's, the primary factors are diet and environment. And in fact, this is absolutely consistent with the general explosion of intestinal disorders of all kinds including:
- Colon cancer (Now the second leading cancer among men and women combined, after lung cancer)
- Diverticular disease (Fifty years ago, diverticular disease was virtually unknown (afflicting less than 10% of the American population. Today, virtually 100% of all Americans will have many diverticulae -- if they live long enough.)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
But of all statistics, three stand out.
- More Americans are hospitalized for digestive diseases than for any other type of illness.
- Digestive diseases cost the United Sates alone an estimated $91 billion annually in health care costs, lost work days and premature deaths.
- Virtually every single American will suffer from some form of chronic digestive disorder if they live long enough -- and the rest of the world is following close behind.
So now a gene mutation has been found that may open the door to a plethora of new drugs to help deal with digestive disorders. Wonderful!
Of course, a non-medical person might think that although genes could play a role in digestive disorders, they don't explain the sudden explosion in their incidence. An untrained person, then, might think it worth exploring to what extent changes in diet and lifestyle (things that have changed dramatically in the last 50 years in developed countries) might be responsible. But from a medical point of view, that would be rather silly; a patentable genetic discovery is much more exciting.
Risk Factors for Crohn's Disease
Outside of genetics, a list of the risk factors for Crohn's reads like a veritable who's who of what's wrong with modern life. It also pretty much covers the risk factors for the whole gamut of digestive disorders. Risks include:
- Exposure to secondhand smoke early in life.
- Not being breastfed as a child.
- Adult appendectomy. (Who says it's an easy surgery?)
- Oral contraceptives (up to a tenfold increase).
- NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
- Living in a developed (or developing) country. (Isn't that interesting?)
- White collar office work - indoor, sedentary employment.
- Low fiber diets (although high fiber diets seem to aggravate the condition in those who already have it).
- A diet high in Omega-6 fatty acids and animal proteins.
- A poor immune system - as evidenced by a higher incidence of childhood infections.
- And bizarre as it seems, being left handed. Left handers have twice the risk of right handers.
What to do for digestive disorders?
Future drugs aside, what can you do now? Actually, a great deal.
- First and foremost, do an Intestinal Detox. In fact, it's recommended that you do two intestinal detoxes a year as part of your basic health maintenance. (Note: If you have an overactive colon, then you do not want to take a colon activation formula such as Colon Corrective, which would increase that activity even more. If you have diarrhea or an overactive colon, start with the Colon Detoxifier to soothe and calm your colon down. Eventually, as your colon function returns to normal, you may want to incorporate some Colon Corrective into your program.)
- Increase water soluble fiber: psyllium or ground flax.
- Probiotic formulas containing L. salivarius.
- Antipathogens and immune boosters.
- Increasing consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids can reverse problems caused by excessive consumption of high Omega-6 polyunsaturated vegetable oils.
- Eliminating hi refined carb/hi sugar diets.
- Cutting back on animal and dairy products.
- Digestive enzymes and proteolytic enzymes to reduce CICs and intestinal inflammation.
The nice thing about the above program is that it will also be protective against all forms of intestinal disorders: Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, diverticular disease, colon cancer, IBS, etc.