Various forms of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis impact an estimated 1.6 million people in the United States each year, according to statistics from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. While there are currently no complete cures for these diseases, taking steps to improve your gut health can both help reduce the severity of symptoms associated with these conditions while simultaneously increasing your overall quality of life.
Invest in Probiotics
Experts in the field who have personally faced Crohn’s disease like Jordan Rubin, can attest that improving their gut health was an essential step in overcoming the disease. A natural way to advance your gut health is through improving your gut bacteria. While the term bacteria often comes with a bad connotation, not all bacteria are created equal. Your digestive tract requires good bacteria in order to work properly and maintain homeostasis, or balance. Various lifestyle factors from diet to stress can cause a loss in good bacteria, but you can help replace this bacteria through the use of probiotics.
Probiotics come in both natural and supplement forms. If you don’t like taking supplements, simply add probiotic-rich foods with active cultures like yogurt or kefir to your diet. Other potential natural food sources include miso, kombucha and sauerkraut. Look for the terms “fermented” or “active live cultures” on the food packaging as not all products on the market contain these good bacteria. Probiotics are also available in pill or powder supplement form.
Alter Your Diet
The food you put in your body can dramatically help or destroy the gut’s natural microbiome. How you approach diet changes will vary depending on how your symptoms manifest. For example, if your IBD include issues with constipation, increasing your fiber intake through wheat bran, psyllium, or calcium polycarbophil can improve your overall gut health while also relieving your symptoms.
If your IBD manifests with symptoms like bloating or gas, adding too much fiber can actually backfire causing even more painful problems. In this case, it’s important to still include more fiber in your diet, but do it through whole food sources like well-cooked fruits and vegetables over raw sources. Be sure to keep a detailed food diary to document what foods help your symptoms and which foods aggravate them and alter your diet accordingly.
Control Your Stress Levels
Stress impacts your mental health, but it also impacts your body physically, especially in relation to your good gut bacteria. Not only can stress change the amount of good bacteria present in your gut, it also causes changes in the types of bacteria and how diverse the total population is. As such, you may notice that at times of greater stress, symptoms of IBD may be more severe.
Various accessible lifestyle changes can help you control stress levels. One of the first techniques you should implement is exercise. Exercise combats stress by increasing the release of feel-good neurotransmitters known as endorphins, which in turn reduces feelings of anxiety and stress. Exercise also acts as a physical release of tension, boosting your energy levels, centering your mind, and helps improve quality of sleep, which for many people may also help reduce stress response in the body. Meditation and breathing exercises can target the more emotional aspects of stress. Whether you take a yoga class or simply take 15 minutes a day for slow, deep breaths, meditation helps calm the mind, reduces negative emotions, and helps you better cope and work through stressful situations.
While there’s currently no perfect cure for irritable bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, research continues to back the positive association between gut health and overcoming the symptoms of the disease. Just like every digestive system is different, IBD symptoms also vary from person to person. Work with your doctor to find the right balance of gut-improving lifestyle changes for your unique situation to get you on the path to finally overcome your symptoms.