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Naturopathic Doctors (ND’s) use a variety of tools to achieve and maintain remission when treating Crohn’s disease.  Among these tools are herbal supplements, lifestyle changes, nutritional supplements and diet.

Not surprisingly, finding authoritative information regarding natural medicine is quite a bit more difficult than reading up on allopathic medicine.  It’s not that the information isn’t out there…. to the contrary, there’s too much!  And most of it is folks hocking their snake oil, rather than real information not intended to sell something.  Most of the information for this post came from here, here and here

NDs rely heavily on herbal supplements when treating any condition, and Crohn’s is no exception.  When treating Crohn’s, a primary goal is reducing or eliminating inflammation in the gut.  To that end, some commonly prescribed herbs are:

  • ginkgo and licorice for their anti-inflammatory effects and the soothing effect they have on the digestive system;
  •  cinnamon and angelica because of their tendency to reduce muscular spasms and systemic inflammation;
  • and artemesia , garlic, gentian, goldenseal, grapefruit, and sanguinaria for their antibiotic effects on harmful microorganisms present in the digestive tract.

Naturopathic medicine is deeply rooted in a tradition of holistic treatment, and strongly emphasizes a connection between mental/emotional health and physical health.  Also, clinical data shows a strong correlation between elevated stress levels and Crohn’s flares.  Because of this, an ND will generally recommend that Crohn’s patients focus on stress reduction techniques.  Yoga, meditation, and other relaxing breathing-focused exercises are encouraged.  The use of biofeedback to help reduce the physical effects of stress, as well as exercise as a way to work out stress and keep the body healthy, is almost certainly something an ND would discuss.

Other lifestyle factors that an ND would want to talk about might include smoking (don’t do it!) and diet (which I’ll talk about in another post).

There are a number of nutritional supplements that NDs use to help with Crohn’s management, including:

  • L-glutamine, an amino acid with the ability to heal the lining of the digestive tract
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, which have a tendency to reduce inflammation of the digestive tract
  • Vitamin B12, folic acid, and vitamin D, for their role in repairing tissue damaged by colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • The minerals iron and zinc, because of similar properties
  • Vitamins C and E and minerals selenium and zinc, for their properties as antioxidants
  • Acidophilus, bifidus and sacchromyces boulardi bacterial supplements, since they restore “good” (naturally-occurring, supportive) bacteria to the digestive system.  Interestingly, my ND wants me to take acidophilus *only*, avoiding other strains of common gut flora, and in particular, avoiding bifidus.

I am encouraged regarding the use of naturopathy as a therapeutic approach, but not because I’ve heard such overwhelmingly positive reviews of its results.  My interest comes about largely because a) the use of medicines that are closer to their natural form is an approach that appeals to me, and b) that non-reliance on powerful synthetic (or genetically engineered) drugs means that I am a LOT less concerned about side effects.  Right now, my ND has me taking Vit. D (which I was already taking to control psoriasis), an acidophilus probiotic, a Vit. B supplement, and he encourages my following of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.  After my colonoscopy next month, he and I will sit down and, based on what the camera finds, come up with some long term plans.  Almost certainly, I’ll be on SCD for the foreseeable future, and there will likely be some use of herbal supplementation.

Another therapy he’s discussed with me is low-dose Naltrexone (LDN).  This therapy holds a lot of promise but lacks widespread acceptance and has limited clinical data to back it up.  My next article on Crohn’s therapies will explore the use of LDN.

Thanks for reading along with me as I start to gain a picture of what my life may be looking like going forward!