Alternatively Speaking: Dealing with Chron's

Alternative medicine expert Natalie Marx answers your questions: Can you suggest any herbs that can help with Crohn's disease?

Herbal remedies 370 (photo credit:  REUTERS/Simon Newman)
Herbal remedies 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Simon Newman)
Q. Dear Natalie, please can you suggest any herbs that can help with Crohn's disease. My husband has been suffering for years and I do not know how to help.
A. There are many excellent herbs that can be used alongside conventional treatment for Crohn's disease. Slippery elm has been extensively proven to help treat inflammation in Crohn's disease. The UMMC (University of Maryland Medical Center) states that between 60 to 320 mg of slippery elm taken every day can help improve symptoms of Crohn's disease. Slippery elm is a demulcent which protects tissue and also promotes healing. Take it two hours before or after other drugs or supplements because it can slow the absorption of other substances.
Turmeric has long been used in the treatment of Crohn's disease. It contains curcumin which has excellent anti-inflammatory properties. I recommend 1 to 2 g of turmeric a day. Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) is not only a demulcent but also an emollient, making it a substance that soothes mucous membranes. I recommend drinking tea steeped from marshmallow leaves or roots three times a day.
Studies indicate that cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) help relax intestinal muscles. The UMMC recommends 250 mg of cat's claw a day to relieve inflammation. Other herbs that may help alleviate inflammation include yarrow, chamomile, licorice and aloe vera. For those who suffer from diarrhea associated with Crohn's, I suggest herbs like green tea, oak and witch hazel which contain tannins that may help relieve acute incidents of diarrhea.
Q. Dear Natalie, since being diagnosed with Crohn's disease, my doctor has suggested I look carefully at my diet. Can you recommend any guidelines I should be following to help control the flare-ups?
A. A study published in 2010 in the ‘World Journal of Gastroenterology’ proved that a semi vegetarian diet is highly effective in preventing relapses of Crohn's disease. This includes a diet based on fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, seeds and nuts that also includes animal proteins such as chicken, fish and eggs, however eliminating red meat. In those that followed a semi vegetarian diet, remission was maintained in 94 percent of the cases, compared with 33 percent in the group that followed an omnivorous diet.
I recommend eating fruits and vegetables that are higher in anti-oxidant qualities, like berries, bell peppers and tomatoes. These will not only help prevent recurrence of the disease but will also reduce symptoms.
Include foods rich in calcium and B vitamins such as whole grains and green leafy vegetables. If your symptoms are severe, I recommend an elemental diet. This is a liquid diet that contains basic foods that don't have to break down into smaller foods along the digestive tract. Proteins are taken in the form of amino acids, carbohydrates are taken as glucose, and fats are eaten in the form of fatty acids. Once symptoms improve, after a period of time, solid and more complex foods can be slowly reintroduced.
The issue of fiber depends on the individual. Fiber can be beneficial for some cases of Crohn's disease, other cases may be aggravated by fiber. If aggravated, make sure you steam or bake your fiber-rich vegetables before eating them. Dairy products usually worsen symptoms so I recommend avoiding these foods. Try to completely avoid refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta. Foods high in fat and high in sugar should also be eliminated from the diet. Finally, I suggest avoiding coffee, alcohol and tobacco.
Q. Dear Natalie, are there any vitamins or minerals which a Crohn's sufferer should be taking? Thank you.
A. Certain vitamins can indeed help prevent serious complications, such as malnutrition, bleeding symptoms and osteoporosis caused by Crohn's disease. For example, Vitamin D can help alleviate symptoms of Crohn's disease.  A study carried out by the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), showed that people with Crohn's disease, especially those who take corticosteroid medications, may have low levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential in supporting bone health and calcium absorption, therefore deficiency of the nutrient may lead to osteoporosis, a common complaint amongst Crohn's sufferers. I recommend 1,000 international units (IU) of Vitamin D daily to help promote bone strength. Vitamin D can be taken in capsule form, as part of a multi-vitamin, or through daily sun exposure. Foods high in Vitamin D include fish liver oils (salmon, tuna, and mackerel), fortified breads, yogurt, milk, cereal, orange juice and eggs.
Vitamin B12 supports healthy digestion, healthy nerve function and red blood cell production. People with Crohn's disease commonly suffer nutrient malabsorption and therefore develop deficiency of vital nutrients. Vitamin B12 can be taken in capsule form or as part of the Vitamin B Complex. You can also meet your daily recommended intake by eating one chicken breast, a hard-boiled egg and a cup of plain low-fat yogurt several times a week. I also suggest adding Vitamin K into your daily regime since it aids in blood clotting, bone strength maintenance and arterial health. Many people with Crohn's exhibit a Vitamin K deficiency, therefore supplementation of Vitamin K can help reduce internal bleeding and make up for nutrient loss. Food sources high in Vitamin K include kale, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and green beans. No known harmful effects occur due to Vitamin K intake from foods.
The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition confirms that iron is an essential mineral for Crohn's sufferers. They explain that inflammation of the bowels, often results in chronic blood loss, and when large amounts of blood are lost, iron deficiency arises. I recommend getting a blood test to measure your iron levels. If deficient, I suggest taking 30 mg of iron with meals twice daily, for three to six months. For maximum absorbability, choose a liquid iron supplement.
Another important mineral is zinc. Zinc is needed to support your immune system and to help heal damaged bowel tissue. I recommend taking 50 mg of zinc daily (Balch suggests choosing a zinc gluconate lozenge for the best absorption).This column is brought to you as general information only and unless stated otherwise is not medical advice nor is it based on medical experiments. This column is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. For more information about specific problems, please contact a doctor.
Natalie runs a clinic both in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem offering a wide range of natural treatment, including a women’s clinic every Wednesday. To make an appointment please email [email protected].
Ask Natalie: If you have a health query and would like an alternative answer, email Natalie with your question at [email protected]