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Crohn’s Disease Self-Care Tips for a Healthier Lifestyle

Crohn’s Disease Self-Care: Tips for a Healthier Lifestyle

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Crohn’s disease is a chronic irritable bowel disease that affects 6 to 8 million people globally. Dealing with the disease can be an isolating feeling, as patients are impacted by a range of painful symptoms such as diarrhea, fatigue, fever, and cramping

According to colorectal surgeon Stefan Holubar, MD, “An informed patient is the best patient”. Having an effective self-care routine can make it easier for patients to manage their symptoms. 

This article discusses Crohn’s disease self-care tips, ranging from an effective diet to lifestyle changes. Read on to understand your disease better and manage your symptoms smoothly.

Table of Contents

What is Crohn’s Disease? 

Understanding Crohn's Disease

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) causing inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss. It can affect any part of the GI tract but often impacts the small intestine and colon. 

Here’s all you need to know about the types, causes, and symptoms of Crohn’s disease. 

Types of Crohn’s Disease

There are five main types of Crohn’s disease, each with its symptoms.

  • Ileocolitis: This type is categorized by inflammation around the end of the small intestine (ileum) and a portion of the large intestine. 
  • Ileitis: This leads to inflammation of the ileum only. 
  • Gastroduodenal Crohn’s: Inflammation is around the stomach and the start of the small intestine (duodenum). 
  • Jejunoileitis: Inflammation is located around the middle part of the small intestine (jejunum). 
  • Crohn’s Colitis: This type leads to inflammation of the colon only. 

Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

Here are the commonly reported symptoms of different types of Crohn’s disease:

Type
Symptoms
Ileocolitis
Considerable weight loss, Diarrhoea, Cramping, Pain in the middle or lower right abdomen
Ileitis
Diarrhoea, Cramping, Pain in the middle or lower right abdomen, Fistulas or abscesses
Gastroduodenal
Nausea, Weight loss, Loss of appetite, Vomiting
Jejunoileitis
Cramps after meals, Fistulas, Diarrhoea, Abdominal pain
Crohn’s Colitis
Skin lesions, Joint pain, Diarrhoea, Rectal bleeding, Ulcers, fistulas, abscesses around the anus

Causes of Crohn’s Disease 

While the exact cause of the disease remains unknown, there are multiple factors that could play a role, such as:

  • Genes: Your chances of getting the disease are higher if you have a family history of it.
  • Immune System: A problem with the immune system can lead to the body attacking your digestive tract, which contributes to Crohn’s disease. 
  • Bacteria: An abnormal balance of gut bacteria can lead to the disease.
  • Smoking: Compared with never-smokers, former smokers were reported to have an increased risk of developing the disease.
  • Appendectomy: People who have had an appendix surgery have an increased risk of Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s Disease Self-Care: Diet Management 

Adjusting your diet reduces the chances of flare-ups in Crohn’s disease, as a balanced diet improves your digestive health. Here’s all you need to know to make an effective diet plan. 

Food to Eat

  • Low-Fiber Grains: Low-fiber grains such as rice, pasta, cornmeal, and polenta, are easier to digest. 
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Some easy-to-digest fruits and vegetables include pumpkins, bananas, steamed or cooked vegetables, and peeled cucumbers. 
  • Protein: Low-fat protein is the best option when it comes to Crohn’s disease. Eggs, fish, peanut butter, white meat poultry, and tofu are some examples. 
  • Dairy Alternatives: Dairy products flare up the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Some substitutes include low-fat fermented yogurt, soy milk, almond milk, and kefir. 

Food to Avoid 

Foods to Avoid (1)

Some foods are difficult to digest and lead to inflammation of the gut. Here are foods that patients are advised to avoid.

  • Alcohol: Alcoholic drinks, such as wine, beer, hard liquor, and cocktails, irritate the gastrointestinal tract, leading to inflammation.
  • Caffeine: Caffeinated drinks, including coffee, tea, and energy drinks, stimulate acid reflux, leading to an upset stomach. 
  • Sodas: Carbonated beverages, including soda and seltzer, lead to gas build-up, causing bloating and pressure. 
  • High Fiber: Whole-grain breads and starchy foods like bran, quinoa, and brown rice are high in fiber. Fiber is hard to digest and worsens abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea.
  • Processed Meats: Processed meats such as sausages, hot dogs, and deli meats contain preservatives, spices, and fats that irritate the gut lining and worsen inflammation.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Raw vegetables and fruits contain fiber, making them difficult to digest during flare-ups. Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage produce gas, worsening bloating and discomfort.
  • Dairy Products: Dairy foods such as cheese, milk, butter, and cream worsen symptoms during a flare-up, especially if the patient is lactose intolerant.

Eating Habits

Aside from maintaining a healthy diet, following some practical eating habits helps patients with routine management of the disease. 

  • Small Meals: Eating small and frequent meals instead of big meals prevents overloading your digestive system and reduces cramping and bloating. 
  • Chew Food Thoroughly: As digestion begins in the mouth, chewing food before swallowing helps with your digestive process. Saliva also contains digestive enzymes that are released when chewing. 
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially if you have diarrhea as a symptom. 
  • Avoid Late Night Eating: Finish your meals at least 3 to 4 hours before your bedtime as sleeping right after eating disrupts digestion. 
  • Textured Foods: If it is hard for you to digest solid foods, consider consuming soups, broths, or purees, as they are easier to swallow.
  • Beverages During Meals: Consuming excessive liquids during meals leads to bloating.

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Nutritional Remedies for Crohn’s Disease

Nutritional Remedies for Crohn's Disease

Inflammation and poor absorption caused due to Crohn’s disease lead to nutritional deficiencies. Consuming essential vitamins and minerals supports your immune system and promotes overall well-being. Here are some essential nutrients that can help you cope with Crohn’s disease. 

Iron

Iron is found in hemoglobin, a component that makes up red blood cells and carries oxygen around the body. Iron deficiency leads to anemia, which is a serious complication associated with Crohn’s disease. 

Inflammation and blood loss from intestinal ulcers can cause you to develop an iron deficiency. A recent review article confirms this by finding that the prevalence of anemia in patients younger than 18 years is approximately 41–75%. 

The recommended daily dosage of iron is 16 to 18 mg/day for men and 12 mg/day for women. Here are some foods you can add to your diet to treat iron deficiency caused by Crohn’s disease: 

  • Shellfish: A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of clams contains 3 mg of iron, which is 17% of the daily value. 
  • Spinach: 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of raw spinach contains 2.7 mg of iron, making up 15% of the recommended daily intake. 
  • Liver: A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of beef liver contains 6.5 mg of iron or 36% of the recommended dosage. 
  • Legumes: They are a great source of iron, especially for vegetarians. One cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils contains 6.6 mg, which is 37% of the daily value. 
  • Tofu: A half-cup (126-gram) serving provides 3.4 mg of iron, which is 19% of the DV. 

Vitamin D

Individuals suffering from Crohn’s disease are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. This is because of inflammation, along with heavy steroid intake, which is prescribed to them to manage their symptoms. Therefore, patients should take recommended amounts of vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis. 

A recent research study also proved that vitamin D deficiency worsens symptoms of Crohn’s disease. The vitamin plays a significant role in the maintenance of the gastrointestinal barrier, gut microbiota, and inflammatory immune responses. These mechanisms are important in both preventing the development and easing symptoms of the disease.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin D is  20 mcg (800 IU) for adults. Here’s how you can maintain your vitamin D levels while taking foods that will not flare up your disease:

  • Salmon: One 100-gram serving of farmed Atlantic salmon contains 526 IU of vitamin D or 66% of the daily value. 
  • Cod Liver Oil: At about 450 IU per teaspoon (4.9 mL), it fulfills 56% of the recommended daily intake. 
  • Egg Yolks: The yolk from one large egg contains 37 IU of vitamin D, making up 5% of the daily dosage.
  • Mushrooms: Some wild mushrooms are excellent sources of vitamin D2 because of their exposure to UV light. Morels are a type of mushroom that grows in the wild. One cup of these mushrooms contains 136 IU of vitamin D.

Probiotics

Crohn’s disease disrupts the balance of gut bacteria, which worsens inflammation. Probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria to the digestive system, helping restore gut health.

Probiotics also help in managing symptoms of Crohn’s disease, such as bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Several animal models have proved the effectiveness of probiotic therapy for patients with Crohn’s disease. In human patients, yeasts have been reported to have a positive effect in managing irritable bowel diseases. 

Here are some kinds of probiotics that work best for irritable bowel diseases: 

  • E. coli Nissle (Mutaflor): This is a strain of E. coli that is non-pathogenic, meaning it won’t make you sick. It works by bringing patients into remission for at least a year. Remission means you have few or no symptoms.
  • VSL#3: This is a combination of eight probiotics. It has the potential of bringing patients into remission for at least 24 weeks.
  • L.plantarum 299v: L.plantarum 299v strain in a drink form has been shown to help reduce symptoms like bloating, stool frequency, and abdominal pain. This helps in inducing remission. 
  • Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG: The LGG strain is effective in maintaining clinical remission. 

Magnesium 

Magnesium aids in proper muscle functioning, preventing muscle spasms and cramps, which are common complaints among patients with Crohn’s disease. 

The disease also worsens magnesium deficiency. This is because diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease, and it leads to the loss of electrolytes such as magnesium. 

The recommended dietary allowance of magnesium is 400-420 mg daily for men and 310-320 mg for women. It can be covered through magnesium-rich foods such as tofu, spinach, legumes, and avocados.

Lifestyle Changes for Crohn’s Disease

Self-care for Crohn’s disease includes some lifestyle adjustments that help in avoiding flare-ups and managing symptoms. These include proper diet, sleep, and stress management. 

“I tell my patients that irritable bowel syndrome is like having an irritable child in your belly,” says gastroenterologist Lucinda A. Harris, M.D. “That child is going to behave much better if you establish a schedule of eating frequent small meals, getting enough sleep, and doing regular exercise. 

Here are some lifestyle tips you should consider following. 

Maintaining a Healthy Sleep Cycle 

Maintaining a Healthy Sleep Cycle

Studies have shown that poor sleep is associated with a worse course of Crohn’s disease

Poor sleep leads to system deregulation, making inflammation worse. The body performs repair functions during sleep, supporting the healing of inflamed tissues and recovery from flare-ups. Regular sleep also helps manage symptoms such as fatigue and dizziness.

Here are some tips to maintain a healthy sleep cycle.

  • Limit your caffeine intake, especially after 3 pm. 
  • Avoid using screens before bedtime. 
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and cool. This will signal your brain to shut down and help with night sweats.
  • Invest in a good quality mattress and soft sheets to ensure comfortable sleep. 

Stay Physically Active 

Regular exercise decreases IBS symptoms as physically active individuals have more frequent bowel movements. A randomized clinical trial proved that physical activity and exercise have been suggested to be elements in both the prevention and supplementary treatment of irritable bowel diseases. 

Here are some forms of physical activity you can try out: 

  • Yoga: Yoga is beneficial in reducing stress levels, and helping with flare-ups associated with bowel diseases. 
  • Low-Impact Exercises: Low-impact exercises such as swimming or walking work well for patients dealing with fatigue and dizziness. 
  • Stretching: Stretching exercises help ease muscle tension and improve flexibility.

Try Alternative Therapies 

Alternative therapies complement medical treatments and offer additional relief for patients dealing with symptoms of Crohn’s disease. 

Here are some commonly used alternative therapies. 

  • Acupuncture: This process involves inserting needles into specific points around the body. Studies reveal that acupuncture has a positive therapeutic impact on IBD, as it reduces gastroenteritis and improves blood circulation.  
  • Aromatherapy: This kind of therapy involves essential oils such as lavender oil or peppermint oil to promote relaxation. This reduces stress-related flare-ups.
  • Massage: Massage therapy improves blood circulation and eases symptoms such as muscle tension and spasms.

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Mental Health Support for Crohn’s Disease Patients 

As Crohn’s disease is a painful and chronic condition, patients find it difficult to cope with their diagnosis and symptoms. This leads to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. 

Therefore, it is important to be aware of the right kind of mental health resources available to you as a patient, making your journey easier. 

Here are some ways through which you can seek support for your mental health.

Support Groups

When dealing with a chronic illness, it is important to know that you are not alone. Sharing your experiences with other patients through a support circle can give you a sense of hope and make you feel included. 

Here are some common types of support groups that you can become a part of: 

  • Peer-Led Support Groups: These are organized by patients who have personal experience with Crohn’s disease. Participants share their experiences, strategies, and emotional support. 
  • Facilitator-Led Support Groups: These are moderated by healthcare professionals such as social workers, nurses, or psychologists. They provide structured guidance and resources, helping patients cope with the mental impact of their illness. 
  • Online Support Groups: Virtual groups are accessible through websites, apps, or social media. These provide flexibility and anonymity, helping participants feel comfortable in sharing their personal stories. 
  • Family and Caregiver Support Groups: These are designed for family members, partners, or caregivers of individuals with Crohn’s disease. Family support groups allow them to discuss the challenges they face and share strategies for supporting their loved ones.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that is effective in treating a range of problems including depression, and anxiety disorders. It enables IBD patients to use problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations, such as medication adherence, diet changes, and managing work-life balance. 

It also helps them set realistic health and lifestyle goals to encourage gradual progress in symptom management. Some small-scale studies have shown cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression seen in individuals suffering from irritable bowel diseases. 

Working along with a therapist who is skilled in bowel diseases can ensure that therapy is relevant. Additionally, you can explore CBT books for anxiety as well. 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

This kind of therapy works by encouraging patients to accept their conditions without feeling a sense of guilt and avoidance. 

In Crohn’s disease, sudden lifestyle changes can be difficult to adjust to. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy helps patients in coming to terms with these changes with a positive mindset, making the transition easy for them. It also involves being more mindful of emotions, and gut sensations, teaching patients skills to improve their quality of life. 

A randomized controlled trial involving patients suffering from irritable bowel diseases showed that ACT was 45% successful in reducing stress levels in patients over 8 weeks. 

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Key Takeaways

  • Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affecting millions globally, causing symptoms like diarrhea, cramping, and fatigue.  
  • Crohn’s disease has five main types: ileocolitis, ileitis, gastroduodenal, jejunoileitis, and Crohn’s colitis.
  • Focus on low-fiber grains, easily digestible fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, and dairy alternatives.  
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, high-fiber grains, processed meats, and dairy, which can irritate the gut and worsen symptoms.  
  • Eat small, frequent meals, chew thoroughly, and stay hydrated to prevent flare-ups.
  • Iron, vitamin D, probiotics, and magnesium are essential nutrients for managing Crohn’s symptoms and deficiencies. 
  • A regular sleep cycle supports immune function, reduces inflammation, and manages fatigue.  
  • Moderate exercises like yoga, walking, and stretching ease symptoms, reduce stress and promote overall well-being.  
  • Acupuncture, aromatherapy, and massage therapy may complement conventional treatments, reducing stress and muscle tension.
  • Peer-led, facilitator-led, online, and family caregiver support groups offer emotional support and share coping strategies.  
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) improves problem-solving skills and emotional regulation, while Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps patients accept their condition positively.

Frequently Asked Questions

Foods like bone broth, white rice, cooked vegetables, applesauce, and low-fat yogurt can soothe inflamed intestines due to their easy digestibility.

Fruits high in insoluble fiber like apples (with skin), citrus fruits, and berries can irritate the gut and should be limited or avoided, especially during flare-ups.

Stay hydrated, follow a bland diet, get plenty of rest, take prescribed medications, and consult your doctor for additional advice if symptoms persist.

Avoid high-dose vitamin C supplements, as these can cause digestive upset. Herbal supplements like St. John’s wort may interact with medications.

While medication is often essential, lifestyle changes like following a personalized diet, managing stress, exercising moderately, and getting enough sleep can help improve quality of life. Always consult your doctor before discontinuing medication.

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