Crohn’s disease is one of two major inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), along with Ulcerative Colitis. These diseases result in 130,000 physician visits and 92,000 hospitalizations in United States each year. Over the course of disease, 75% of individuals with Crohn’s require surgery.1CDC.gov. IBD: An Expensive Disease Without a Cure. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed June 14, 2017. In 2008, the cost of these diseases included $6.8 billion in treatment costs and $5.5 billion in missed work.

Ayurvedic Treatment of Crohn's DiseaseThe severity of Crohn’s disease is assessed by the severity of the disease and its effect on the individual’s life. Common symptoms of the disease are:

  • Diarrhea 4-plus times per day;
  • Abdominal cramping and pain;
  • Blood in stools;
  • Fatigue; and
  • Low-grade fever associated with severe inflammatory symptoms.

In addition to these, each symptom causes further secondary symptoms. Dehydration from diarrhea causes dryness and mineral leaching. Abdominal cramping and pain can cause adrenal stress and affects circadian hormonal activity, resulting in sleep disturbance. Excessive bleeding can cause an ongoing struggle with anemia. Fatigue can extend into chronic fatigue and body pains, similar to fibromyalgia. Additionally, inflammation and damage to the small intestine can cause problems with nutrient digestion and absorption. For this reason, individuals may have malnutrition and symptoms related to specific depletions.

Risk Factors of Crohn’s Disease

A sedentary lifestyle reduces digestive motility, causing increased exposure of the digestive tract to food antigens.2Sonnenberg A, McCarty DJ, Jacobsen SJ. Geographic variation of inflammatory bowel disease within the United States. Gastroenterol. 1991;100:143–149. As humans, we are designed to move. For much of our history, our ancestors were hunters, gatherers, farmers, and cultivators—physical activity was an essential aspect of our evolutionary, survival advantage. Therefore, a sedentary lifestyle makes our physiological functions more sluggish. It reduces motility in the digestive tract, causes stagnation, and increases the risk of inflammation.

Ayurvedic Treatment of Crohn's DiseasePrevious use of antibiotics causes weakened digestion because of disturbed digestive microbiota.3Card T, Logan RF, Rodrigues LC, Wheeler JG. Antibiotic use and the development of Crohn’s disease. Gut. 2004;53:246–250. The modern medical system has enjoyed the boon of antibiotics in the past century. Antibiotics, when taken, don’t discriminate between healthy and infectious bacteria. Therefore, excessive use has caused damage to our natural digestive microbial environment. This also affects our ability to appropriately digest and absorb foods. Individuals experience increased indigestion, bloating, and weakness.

Smoking cigarettes and even second-hand exposure to cigarette smoke as a child can increase the risk of Crohn’s disease.4Somerville KW, Logan RF, Edmond M, Langman MJ. Smoking and Crohn’s disease. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1984;289:954–956. This is attributed to a large volume of toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke, which cause inflammatory reactions in the body’s mucus membranes.5Lashner BA, Shaheen NJ, Hanauer SB, Kirschner BS. Passive smoking is associated with an increased risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease in children. Am J Gastroenterol. 1993;88:356–359. Exposure to cigarette smoke introduces inflammation-causing chemicals into our body. When these touch the delicate and absorptive mucus membranes of our lungs and digestive tract, these chemicals induce a defensive inflammatory reaction from the body. Chronic exposure can trigger chronic inflammation among those who are susceptible.

In addition to these factors, the Ayurvedic text of Charaka Samhita describes bowel irritation and diarrhea as vata dosha imbalances. Ayurveda goes further to demonstrate two main psychogenic causes of these:

  1. Shokaja atisara: due to grief; and
  2. Sannipataja atisara: fear and anxiety.6Sharma RK, Dash B, Samhita C. Chaukhamba Sanskrit Series. 1992;4(19):175.

If these early symptoms are not treated, they will cause the derangement of the digestive function, leading to toxin (ama) collection in the digestive tract. Ultimately, accumulation of ama leads to the development of inflammation in the digestive tract. Therefore, a pitta aggravation is developed due to an ongoing dysregulation of the vata for many years prior, in most cases.

With inflammation in the digestive tract, the body begins to develop lesions in the intestines. These are the most painful and disruptive aspect of Crohn’s disease. The body cannot digest or absorb nutrients as efficiently, nor can it eliminate toxins. Thus, Crohn’s disease has a depleting effect on the body, contributing to malnutrition and associated symptoms, such as body aches, degeneration, weight loss, weakness of tissues, and more.

Treating Crohn’s Disease

Traditional Ayurveda, as offered at Natural Rhythms Integrative Medicine, does not treat every case of Crohn’s disease the same way. Each individual is assessed based on their life story and syndrome. These highlight the unique path to disease development as well as the unique approach to disease management. Treatments include herbal medicines to reduce inflammation and regulate digestion through balancing the Pitta Dosha; controlling pain, bowel irritation, and intestinal spasms by managing Vata; and supporting Agni (fire element) to improve pachana (digestive function) and reduce ama (toxin build-up) by supporting elimination function.

Ayurveda recommends specific herbal medicines to help perform these therapeutic functions. Patients are slowly placed on an individualized diet and lifestyle program to restore the integrity of the physical body. Furthermore, counseling and breathing exercises are applied to support mental and emotional well-being.

In part 2 of our series on Crohn’s disease, we will offer more details on our therapeutic approach. Subscribe to our blog to be emailed when it’s published.

References   [ + ]

1. CDC.gov. IBD: An Expensive Disease Without a Cure. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed June 14, 2017.
2. Sonnenberg A, McCarty DJ, Jacobsen SJ. Geographic variation of inflammatory bowel disease within the United States. Gastroenterol. 1991;100:143–149.
3. Card T, Logan RF, Rodrigues LC, Wheeler JG. Antibiotic use and the development of Crohn’s disease. Gut. 2004;53:246–250.
4. Somerville KW, Logan RF, Edmond M, Langman MJ. Smoking and Crohn’s disease. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1984;289:954–956.
5. Lashner BA, Shaheen NJ, Hanauer SB, Kirschner BS. Passive smoking is associated with an increased risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease in children. Am J Gastroenterol. 1993;88:356–359.
6. Sharma RK, Dash B, Samhita C. Chaukhamba Sanskrit Series. 1992;4(19):175.