Crohn's disease is a medical condition that can cause chronic inflammation anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract--from the mouth all the way to the rectum. Often, but not always, the inflamed tissue is specifically found in the ileum (the end of the small intestine) and the beginning of the colon. Inflammation can spread into the deeper layers of the tract and often has what is known as a "cobblestone appearance." This refers to the fact that some patches of diseased tissue are found next to patches of healthy tissue.
Although all age groups are equally at risk, people 15-35 years old are most commonly affected. Crohn's is a difficult condition to cure, so the main focus of treatment is to help manage symptoms with medication and dietary changes and, in some cases, surgery to repair or remove affected areas of the gastrointestinal tract. Because the disease is chronic, the individual may experience periods of flare ups and aggravating symptoms, while at other times the person will have periods with no apparent symptoms at all.
Symptoms vary from patient to patient, and may include:
- Persistent, recurrent diarrhea
- Bleeding from the anus
- Urgent need to evacuate the bowels
- Constipation or feeling of incomplete evacuation
- Abdominal cramping
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Mental and physical developmental delays (in certain cases occurring amongst children)
- Night sweats
- Irregular menstrual cycle
It is important to receive an early diagnosis as untreated Crohn's disease can eventually cause life-threatening symptoms such as tears in the lining of the rectum and fistulas. Fissures can cause excess bleeding and pain. Fistulas happen when inflammation erodes tissue, causing the formation of a tunnel starting from the intestines, going to the urinary bladder, vagina or even the skin.
A study called Acupuncture Helps Crohn's Disease Patients was published in the journal World of Gastroenterology, and it had with some very promising results. It concluded that "Acupuncture provided significant therapeutic benefits in patients with active Crohn's disease, beyond the placebo effect and is therefore an effective and safe treatment." Even more encouraging, researchers also discovered that both lab scores and quality of life scores improved. This means that acupuncture and Oriental medicine is adept at handling the physical and emotional symptoms that often accompany the disease.
For the study, the acupuncture points selected for treatment focused on reducing inflammation in the intestinal tract. Each participant received three treatments per week for a total of 12 weeks. Additionally, moxibustion (moxa) was also used on four acupuncture points on the stomach. Moxa is a traditional technique that uses the smoke from the herb mugwort to penetrate the skin. In this way, it stimulates the body's immune system. Often, the warm smoke provides a pleasant, comforting experience for the patient.
Diet is very important and the right choices can help reduce some symptoms. In general, acupuncture and Oriental medicine suggests refraining from eating raw and cold foods. This includes raw, fibrous vegetables often found in salads such as lettuce, carrots and cucumbers. Cucumbers are considered particularly a cold food and should only be eaten when it is hot outside. Warm, highly nutritious foods such as baked sweet potato, turnips, onions, chicken, beef, lamb and rice are easier for the digestive system to process. If you love your veggies, try baking them or lightly saute them in a little butter or olive oil.
Find an Acupuncturist near you to learn how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help manage your symptoms!
About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.