To know the end of digestive distress, you first have to know yourself
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is becoming more commonly known each day. Which is good, because it can be a debilitating problem. So the more people know about it and talk about it, the more comfortable sufferers will be to seek help.
However, it’s critical to choose the right kind of help. And it’s not just people with diagnosed IBD (a.k.a. Crohn’s disease and colitis) who need to be concerned about it. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), with related symptoms that afflict up to 15% of the U.S. population, may be a warning sign that IBD is coming for those who don’t make a change.
IBS is a prime example of how the mind and body are connected. It’s no surprise that the people who experience it and the chronic gastrointestinal pain or discomfort it involves often have a history of childhood trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, parental divorce, major illness or accident, or death of a loved one. It’s the body’s expression of the mind’s suffering.
IBS also runs in families, so biomedical scientists are quick to claim some kind of genetic basis—but lifestyle factors run in families just as much as genes do.
How thin are your boundaries?
Tufts University professor Ernest Hartmann developed a “boundary concept” to explain differences in personality type. He found that people have differing levels of boundaries, ranging from thick to thin. Thin-boundary people tend to be more artistic, more connected with their dreams, and more likely to see themselves “merge” in their relationships with others. Thick- boundary people see clear divides between themselves and others and tend to see the world in black-and-white.
My colleague Michael A. Jawer and I suspected that this boundary concept could explain some mysteries of physical health, and we were right. In our book Your Emotional Type, we demonstrate that people with thin boundaries are more susceptible to a dozen illnesses with mind-body components—including IBS.
A common denominator among these ailments? Low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter found in the brain—but 95 percent is found in the neuroendocrine tissue of the gut. (Ever wonder why we have “gut feelings,” and feel like we’ve been “punched in the gut” when we get bad news? It’s likely related to these neurochemicals—chemicals that relate to thoughts and feelings—that are actually present in the gut.)
A mind-body solution for a mind- body problem
If you have IBS, chances are you are a thin boundary type. Find out your boundary type at www.drmicozzi. com.) Since the mind is clearly a critical part of what happens in this syndrome, your best bet for treating it is using a mind-body therapy that is most effective for your type.
Hypnosis is perfectly suited for people with thin boundaries. (See the premier issue of Insiders’ Cures.) Biofeedback is another safe and effective technique for thin-boundary types. And acupuncture can be a powerhouse across the board—even for many people who have had no luck with other therapies.
When the syndrome becomes a disease
If IBS progress to an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s, treatment is a lifelong process. For many sufferers, conventional treatments offer little relief. Experts recommend complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches, even beyond the mind-body disorder of IBS, as a powerful treatment for IBD.
My colleague, Joyce Frye, DO, who has contributed several chapters to my medical textbooks over the years and is now associated with the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was recently interviewed on this topic. “It’s not a question of if you should use these alternative and complementary therapies,” she emphasizes. “It’s a question of using them correctly.”
Another reason I urge you to find the CAM therapies that are proven to work for you—based on your individual type.
According to Dr. Frye, “The first goal is to treat the underlying imbalance that has caused a problem, so we can allow the body to heal itself. The second goal is to provide symptom relief in the meantime.”
One of the best things about CAM therapies is that they are safe and unlikely to interfere with your conventional medical treatment. What’s more, they can actually help you to replace essential vitamins and minerals your body is losing because of the disease. (See “Nutritional help for digestive disorders” sidebar below.)
Here’s a closer look at some of the most effective mind-body remedies for bowel disorders.
A recent review of studies on acupuncture and gastrointestinal diseases found acupuncture treatments to be helpful. One study in particular found that quality of life for Crohn’s patients improved significantly after acupuncture treatments.
Meditation, guided relaxation, yoga, and tai chi do not treat Crohn’s disease directly, but they do reduce stress—and stress is known to trigger flare-ups and worsen symptoms. (If you choose the technique best suited to your emotional type, you may have even better luck.)
According to a review by the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, hypnosis may help the functioning of the body’s immune system and also give you the expected relaxation benefits of other mind/body practices, such as easing stress and anxiety.
(We’ve already tried to clue in the University of Maryland as to the real reason for success—matching the specificity of hypnosis for a thin boundary condition—but they still have not caught on. As a reader of Insider’s Cures, you’ll learn of these connections even before the best- known academic CAM centers.)
Although it has no clear effect on Crohn’s disease, massage is a popular stress reducer. If you experience the relaxation that comes from massage, ask your doctor for specific guidelines based on your medical condition, including whether the massage therapist should completely avoid your abdomen and how light or deep the massage should be.
Potty mouth for the lowest common denominator
In Washington, DC, organizations like the National Health Council seem to exist to make sure that every disease gets equal attention from the media, taxpayer funding from Congress, and private donations from the citizens. So much so that Congressional staff refer to these groups as proponents of the “disease of the month” club. They have all become part of the apparatus of the permanent government-nonprofit bureaucracy that keeps tax dollars flowing to the medical status quo—without finding real causes and real cures.
There are so many now that we are beginning to run out of space on the calendar…and colors on the rainbow for the different ribbons. But a new campaign from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America shows just how far (and where) some are willing to go to gain notice and notoriety.
A new IBD campaign shows a closed bathroom stall, with the gap below the door revealing enormous clown shoes worn by the occupant. The message? “I.B.D. is no laughing matter. If you have inflammatory bowel disease (I.B.D.), life can feel like a three-ring circus.”
Moving down the bathroom row, other stall-door ads show a view up to the shins of a woman in a wedding gown (“I.B.D. gave her a day she’ll never forget”).
The foundation hopes that by raising awareness it would help others understand that friends and relatives might be too embarrassed to disclose their condition.
Since this is all part of the competition among the Washington-New York disease-of-the-month crowd, it is unlikely to yield any real breakthrough findings in IBD. All the messages are devoid of any of the new insights into the true nature of this serious problem. And the people running the campaign seem more set on shock value—and raising money—than on sharing useful health information.
Nutritional help for digestive disorders
Fiber, complex in any diet, is even more complex for people with Crohn’s disease. Whether you should eat high-fiber foods or take fiber supplements depends on your specific condition and where you are at any given point in the disease. In some people, fiber supplements like psyllium powder (such as Metamucil) or methylcellulose (such as Citrucel) may stop mild diarrhea. On the other hand, if your Crohn’s disease has caused adhesions and strictures, high-fiber foods will cause discomfort.
Probiotics are a type of normal bacteria that are found naturally inside our intestines and aid in digestion. According to Frye, “There is plausible rationale for why these would be helpful. If altered bacteria in the gut aren’t the cause of the IBD, it certainly is an effect.” Probiotics can be found in some yogurts with active cultures and other cultured foods, or they may be taken in capsule form. But make sure you are taking a truly effective probiotic supplement (as I cautioned in the January issue).
Omega-3 fatty acids are key nutrients found in fatty fish varieties, such as herring, salmon, bluefish, lake trout, and mackerel, and are available as supplements. Omega-3s have proven heart-health benefits, and they also have an anti-inflammatory effect, making them helpful in treating IBD. If you’re going to supplement with fish oil, 1 to 2 grams is recommended.
Boswellia is an herb derived from the fragrant resin of a South Asian gum tree. In February I told you about its anti-inflammatory effects on joint and bone health. It’s also commonly used to ease symptoms of IBD. A recent study confirmed that it can be effective in controlling inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (400–500 mg/day).
Bromelain, an enzyme derived from pineapple, is a potent source of digestive enzymes. A recent study found evidence that bromelain might have beneficial effects in the gastro-intestinal tract for people with IBD. A good serving of fresh pineapple or pineapple juice will provide bromelain in a food matrix together with other nutrients.
Additional herbs that quell inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease are slippery elm, cat’s claw, and marshmallow plant (as a tea made from the herb, Althea officinalis).