Around half a million Americans suffer from Crohn’s disease. If you’re one of them, your life may be severely disrupted due to the long-term nature of Crohn’s. While there is no cure for the condition, here are some ideas to prevent frequent flare-ups.
Understand the role of fiber in Crohn’s disease
We’ve all heard how fiber is great for gastrointestinal health. But the role of fiber in Crohn’s disease is twofold, and you must understand it to prevent a flare up.
Experts believe that getting around 20 grams of fiber daily can reduce your risk of experiencing a flare up considerably. However, once a flare up begins, taking fiber can actually be harmful for you. That’s because people with Crohn’s develop intestinal strictures, which are narrowed areas of your bowel.
During a flare up, this narrowing is exacerbated due to swelling and inflammation. And a high-fiber diet may get obstructed because of a stricture, aggravating your symptoms.
Avoid insoluble fiber even during a remission
There are two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble. Plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, beans, grains, and nuts are the best fiber source out there but almost all have both types of fiber.
Insoluble fiber draws water in your gut and can lead to diarrhea, gas, cramps, and blockage. While you may need it if you suffer from constipation, reducing it otherwise is a good idea. You can try removing skins and peels of fruits and vegetables to reduce your consumption of insoluble fiber.
Additionally, check the labels of any packaged foods you eat to find out their fiber composition.
Avoid smoking like the plague
Smoking is injurious to health in countless ways but it’s a specific risk factor for Crohn’s disease. This means that smokers are more likely to develop Crohn’s than non-smokers and if you already have Crohn’s, you’re more likely to get a flare-up.
Your doctor can help you quit smoking via several science-backed remedies. If you’re struggling with quitting smoking, talking to your doctor is a good idea.
Keep a food diary
While there is no scientific evidence to suggest certain foods can cause Crohn’s, some experts believe that avoiding high-risk foods can keep you in remission longer.
A perfect diet plan that fits all Crohn’s patients is impossible to devise but here are a few general food items to avoid:
● Spicy food
● Greasy items
● High-fiber foods
● Low-fiber foods
● Dairy products
● Fizzy drinks
It’s highly unlikely that all of these items worsen your Crohn’s symptoms — you’ll be intolerant to one or two of these. This is why it’s a good idea to maintain a food diary. Write down what you eat, serving size, and how you feel after eating.
After a month or so, review your food diary with a registered dietitian to determine the foods you need to avoid.
Lactose intolerance is common among Crohn’s patients, so if you feel bloated after consuming dairy products, it’s best to avoid them altogether.
Utilize vitamin and nutritional supplements
The absorptive capacity of your bowel is reduced in Crohn’s disease, especially for fatty meals and fat-soluble vitamins, which include vitamins A, D, E, and K.
This means without a proper diet plan, you can develop malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies, which can lead to a wide range of symptoms.
When you take your food diary to a dietitian, she’ll be able to determine whether you’re getting enough calories. If not, she may recommend you a high-protein diet or vitamin supplements to balance out your nutrition.
This is not only important for your overall health, but it also helps the body fight better with the stress of inflammation that Crohn’s brings.
Consider an elimination diet
If maintaining a food diary is too cumbersome for you, try an elimination diet. This is where you eliminate all the high-risk foods mentioned above from your diet and see whether your symptoms get better. If they do, you add the foods back to your diet one by one and catch the one that triggers your symptoms.
Be careful with omega-3-fatty acids and probiotics
While omega-3-fatty acids are beneficial for your cardiovascular health, the scientific evidence for their role in reducing inflammation in Crohn’s is not substantial. The same is true for probiotics.
So make sure you talk to your doctor before starting either of these for your Crohn’s symptoms.
Understand the non-dietary triggers of Crohn’s
We tend to focus on diet when thinking about Crohn’s triggers. But non-dietary triggers exist too, and avoiding them can be helpful. Smoking is one non-dietary trigger. NSAIDs and stress are two others.
NSAIDs are over-the-counter drugs that you take for a headache. Advil is a good example. NSAIDs reduce the production of prostaglandins, which help maintain the lining of your bowels, especially the stomach.
When you take an NSAID, your gut becomes more prone to inflammatory damage, and this may induce a Crohn’s flare up. So replace NSAIDs with acetaminophen, which blocks headache via a similar mechanism without damaging your gut.
Stress also impairs the functioning of your bowels, and in addition to worsening your current symptoms, it can cause a flare up. Therefore, managing stress effectively is a good preventive measure for Crohn’s.
Yoga, regular exercise, and talk therapy (if you have anxiety) are good ways to manage anxiety.
Preventing Crohn’s disease in a nutshell
Crohn’s is a long-term disease and we don’t really know what causes it. However, we have some understanding of what triggers it. This includes certain food items, smoking, anxiety, stress, and NSAIDs. While you can’t cure Crohn’s, you can avoid these triggers to reduce the frequency of your flare-ups.
Of course, in addition to preventing flare ups, you need to actively treat them with medication once they develop. This is something your doctor will figure out for you — self-medication is never a good idea!
Medically Reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD PhD