Crohn’s disease, food allergies and dietary supplements

Crohn’s disease is a serious condition that can cause a wide range of symptoms, including severe cramping pain, diarrhea and irreversible damage to the intestinal tract. Various studies have focused on the links between this disease and diet. One study (Am J Clin Nutr, 1996;63:741-745) revealed that 69% of patients with Crohn’s disease were allergic to wheat products and 48% to dairy. Another study (Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 1997;11(4):735-740) showed that eliminating foods to which Crohn’s patients were allergic was at least as effective as steroids in producing remission. Other studies have shown that certain dietary supplements, including vitamin A (Lancet, April 5, 1980:766) and S.boulardii (Gastroenterol, 1993;31(2):129-134), can help in reducing diarrhea and healing the intestinal lining.

Many of the people who suffer from this crippling disease, or the side effects of steroid treatments, probably wish they had been told that medical research supports dietary change as a viable treatment option.

Could Leaky Gut Cause Autoimmune Disease?

Could autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease or even ankylosing spondylitis really start in the gut? Many naturally minded physicians and nutritionists have held this opinion for some time. New research (Ann Rheum Dis 2001;60:65-66) seems to confirm it.

Researchers evaluated indicators of excessive intestinal permeability, so-called “leaky gut syndrome”, in patients suffering from a variety of autoimmune disorders. They found much higher rates of permeability in these patients as compared with healthy individuals. This held true even when there were no digestive symptoms, and the patients had not been taking anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) that are known to damage the lining of the intestinal tract. This study confirms the importance of checking the health of the digestive tract in many immune disorders, something I frequently recommend for my patients.

Lactobacillus, Childhood Allergies and Crohn’s Disease

A recent study published in the British medical journal The Lancet (April 7, 2001;357:1076-1079) looked at the effects of Lactobacillus GG on childhood allergies. Lactobacillus GG is a supplement containing beneficial bacteria. It is found in Culturelle, a product that many of my patients are very familiar with. Researchers in Finland gave this product to a group of pregnant women and continued giving it for six months after delivery if the women were breast-feeding. If the infant was bottle-fed, the supplement was given directly to the newborn. By age two, the children who had received the Lactobacillus were found to be half as likely to develop allergies, the most remarkable result ever seen in allergy prevention research. Researchers believe that exposure to beneficial bacteria ear ly in life may train the immune system to defend from disease instead of overreacting to normally benign substances.

In another study (J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr, Oct 2000;31(4):453-457) the same Lacotbacillus GG was given at a rate of one capsule twice a day for six months to children suffering from Crohn’s disease, a severe intestinal disorder. This resulted in a 73% reduction in symptoms within four weeks of starting the supplement and the improvements were maintained throughout the duration of the study. Interestingly, no other treatment was used in this study. With dietary change and a few other targeted supplements, the improvement may well have been 100%.