Acupuncture provides significant benefits to Crohn's patients and is a valid and effective treatment option.
If you know someone with Crohn’s disease, you know how miserable the symptoms can be. People with Crohn’s often need surgery to reduce the flares that drastically affect quality of life. It is one of the most unpleasant digestive disorders imaginable, so finding complementary treatments to provide relief can be lifesaving.
What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that predominantly affects people between the ages of 15 and 35. Crohn’s can affect any region of the GI tract, often presenting with fistulas and small bowel obstruction. Crohn’s, along with ulcerative colitis, are conditions associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Symptoms of Crohn’s include:
- Abdominal cramping and pain
- Anal fistulas
- Weight loss
- Diarrhea (often urgent; stool may be bloody)
- Decreased appetite, nausea, and vomiting
- Recurrent infections
The cause of Crohn’s disease is still unclear, but genetics and a lowered immune system may play a part. Smoking is known to increase the risk of Crohn’s disease, and smokers with Crohn’s may have more frequent relapses than nonsmokers.
Current treatment for Crohn’s includes a combination of corticosteroids and immunosuppressant medications. Some Crohn’s sufferers also have recurrent infections as a result of a compromised immune system, which is a side effect of the medications, and there may be other adverse effects as well. Crohn’s and IBD sufferers often look for alternative treatments to help with chronic symptoms and to prevent flares, and many of them find that acupuncture and naturopathic medicine offer relief and ways to improve quality of life.
Natural options for Crohn’s sufferers
Acupuncture for Crohn’s Symptoms::
Chinese medicine and acupuncture have been used for the treatment of many digestive health issues, such as IBS, heartburn, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s. Although research on the effects of acupuncture and remission of Crohn’s is limited, the studies that are available suggest these treatments are effective. One study showed that acupuncture combined with Chinese herbs and moxibustion, decreased inflammatory markers (CRP—aka C-reactive protein—and sedimentation rate) and had a positive effect on hemoglobin in patients with Crohn’s. The study suggested that acupuncture provides significant benefits to patients and is a valid and effective treatment option (Bao, 2014).
For Crohn’s sufferers, regulating digestion, improving nutrient absorption, and decreasing nausea is key to feeling better. Meals should focus on anti-inflammatory foods; avoiding known allergens or triggers is crucial for better absorption of nutrients and decreasing inflammation in the gut. If the patient has not been tested for food allergies, this should be the next step in the treatment plan in order to rule out any triggers contributing to Crohn’s flares. The food allergy test results will guide future diet plans and recommendations. In general, foods should be low in sugar, foods high in histamine (such as sauerkraut, yeast, alcohol, and cheese) should be avoided, and the diet should contain good fats, such as olive oil, coconut milk/oil, and avocados. In general, the patient should avoid spicy or fried foods and processed meats or snacks.
Supplements for Crohn’s::
Crohn’s disease is commonly associated with certain mineral and vitamin deficiencies. The Crohn’s sufferer should be tested for these deficiencies prior to the treatment provider recommending supplements. Both Crohn’s disease and IBD may result in increased risk of bone loss as a result of malabsorption of nutrients from GI inflammation as well as from the use of prednisone and other steroids. IBD and Crohn’s are often treated with prednisone, and its use has been shown to slow down new bone formation. Because of the risk of bone loss, vitamin D supplements to prevent bone loss are often recommended at a daily dose of at least 1000 IU, but checking levels first will determine the correct dosage.
Fish oil (3000mg) is an anti-inflammatory and has been shown to decrease flares. For those who suffer from severe diarrhea, a specific strain of probiotic, Saccharomyces boulardii (250mg/day or three times a day during a flare), can regulate digestion and increase remission rate (Vilela, 2008).
People have come to my practice in various stages of Crohn’s disease: some were recently diagnosed, some were in remission, and others suffered from recurrent flares. Using acupuncture in conjunction with a regular treatment plan by their doctor, I have seen improved energy, decreased abdominal cramping, regulated digestion, and increased appetite/decreased nausea with just a few treatments.
Note: If you have Crohn’s and have high fever, severe abdominal pain, and symptoms of bowel obstruction, please seek urgent care. Consult with your physician before starting any of the supplements listed above or before changing your treatment plan.
If you are curious about the benefits of natural medicine and acupuncture, please schedule a consultation with our office so we can answer your questions and determine if our clinic is the right fit for you. Give us a call today (425) 686-4498.
Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc is a licensed naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist practicing in Seattle, WA. She specializes in migraine treatment and digestive disorders. Her clinic provides people with a starting point to take control of their health and digestion. Visit her website at startingpointacupuncture.com.
Nutrition and IBD. Retrieved from https://www.ccfa.org/resources/nutrition-and-ibd.html
Bao, C. H., et al. (2014). Randomized controlled trial: Moxibustion and acupuncture for the treatment of Crohn’s disease. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 20(31), 11000-11011.
Vilela, G., et al. (2008). Influence of Saccharomyces boulardii on the intestinal permeability of patients with Crohn’s disease in remission. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 43(7), 842-848.
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Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc
- Master’s Degree in Acupuncture
- Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine
- Master’s Degree in Chemistry
Northern Arizona University
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