Crohn’s Through a Functional Lens
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
Crohn’s Disease is classified as autoimmune. As you know, autoimmunity is a condition in which the body produces an immune response against its own tissue constituents.
Before we talk more about Crohn’s, let’s put autoimmunity into a bit more context so you and I can both grasp how profoundly this is impacting not just our medical system, but the people who are reliant on it…
- Autoimmunity is the fourth largest cause of disability among women in the U.S.
- Of the estimated 80,000,000 people suffering from an autoimmune condition, over 75% of them are women
- It’s the #1 most popular health topic requested by callers to the National Women’s Health Information Center
- Autoimmune diseases are responsible for more than $100 billion in direct health care costs annually (compared to cancers at $57 billion)
- Most autoimmune patients see 4 doctors over 3 years before even receiving a correct diagnosis
Autoimmune diseases can affect all the organ systems in the body, are chronic and can be life-threatening, may be immensely painful—yet invisible, present in flares—so they are inconsistent and mysterious, and are difficult to diagnose. They encompass over 100 conditions including multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Type 1 diabetes, and irritable bowel diseases (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis (UC), and Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s Disease is an autoimmune inflammatory disease in the bowels that causes abdominal cramps, loss of appetite, extreme weight-loss and painful constipation. It’s estimated that over 700,000 people in the United States suffer from this condition, and rates of the disease are rising across the globe.
Crohn’s is considered a chronic and relapsing form of IBD, where inflammation is impacting any part of the gastrointestinal tract, but primarily the ileum, the colon, or both. In Crohn’s disease, there will typically be healthy parts of the intestine mixed in between inflamed areas. Ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, is continuous inflammation of the colon. In Crohn’s disease, inflammation can occur in all the layers of the bowel walls, whereas in Ulcerative colitis the inflammation typically only impacts the innermost lining of the colon.
In addition to pain and discomfort—and the most common symptoms associated with Crohn’s (diarrhea, anemia and dehydration), many patients with Crohn’s disease suffer isolation, a sense of uncertainty about when symptoms will hit, fear of living life, and a huge disruption in their lifestyle, as well as high costs of care, side-effects from treatments, and an endless quest to try to find solutions. Even writing these words now, and having seen these realities played out too many times with clients coming into our clinic at the Functional Nutrition Alliance, breaks my heart.
It doesn’t have to be this way!
Functional Nutrition has the answers to support people with Crohn’s disease with our system-based approaches. It’s what multifactorial conditions like Crohn’s require. One remedy will likely not result in resolution. And the same approaches may not work for two different patients, even with the same diagnosis.
Alzheimer’s Specialist, Dr. Dale Bredesen, describes it best: “Imagine having a roof with 36 holes in it, and your drug patched one hole very well—the drug may have worked, a single ‘hole’ may have been fixed, but you still have 35 other leaks, and so the underlying process may not be affected much.”
This is why one of our key systems at the Functional Nutrition Alliance is what we call 3 Roots, Many Branches. When it comes to Crohn’s we take this 3 Roots, Many Branches approach, ensuring that all factors are considered and addressed. In this system, any sign, symptom, or even the diagnosis, is a branch. Those “branches” include abdominal pain, joint pain, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, anemia, loss of appetite, anal fissures, cramping, depression, dehydration, weight loss, failure to thrive, and even the Crohn’s diagnosis itself.
If we run after these many symptoms, or look for the one protocol for Crohn’s, we’ll end up feeling like Wile E Coyote chasing the Roadrunner from the (aptly named) Looney Tunes cartoons. Unfortunately our clients and patients will feel equally, if not more, frustrated. And they’ll likely pursue their quest for resolution outside of your care.
True resolution comes when we shift our attention from those branches to the roots!
In keeping with the work of the Italian medical doctor and researcher, Allesio Fasano, MD, and his three-legged stool analogy, the three roots where we concentrate our Functional Nutrition care are:
You can see the 3 Roots diagram and what we call their “circles of influence” (meaning the areas we direct our attention to influence the terrain in which that root sits) here:
If you’re working with clients already diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, or suffering symptoms loosely placed under the “IBS” (irritable bowel syndrome) umbrella, instead of hunting down the quick fix, give 3 Roots thinking a try!
- Fairweather D, Frisancho-Kiss S, Rose NR. Sex differences in autoimmune disease from a pathological perspective. Am J Pathol. 2008;173(3):600-609. doi:10.2353/ajpath.2008.071008
- Fasano A. Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2012;42(1):71-78. doi:10.1007/s12016-011-8291-x
- Zhang L, Lu Q, Chang C. Epigenetics in health and disease. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2020;1253:3-55. doi:10.1007/978-981-15-3449-2_1
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