Lessoning stress in one’s life is key to maintaining a healthy balance including how stress affects one’s digestion. Adding probiotics daily as a supplement is an easy and helpful way to aid the homeostasis in the microbiome. Having Crohn’s disease is a tough diagnosis, but achieving gut-level homeostasis is key to keeping a balance of good and bad bacteria.
Many people don’t realize that taking antibiotics can sweep out the gut flora, causing the balance to shift. I watch my diet carefully: no wheat, no sugar, lots of vegetables and sustainably harvested fish and organic chicken, daily antioxidant tea, mediation, yoga, lots of sleep and daily 3-5 mile hikes.
About twenty years ago, I got severe food poisoning from a fast-food chicken sandwich and I didn’t realize the bacteria invaded my gut and created an inhospitable environment where good bacteria and “bad” bacteria normally thrive in a kind of symbiotic balance. I had an overgrowth of bad bacteria and it wasn’t until I developed full-blown Crohn’s disease and had a bowel resection that I started to really take care of my gut microbiome and my quality of life improved immediately.
Based on my experience with having an autoimmune disease, I have created the following list. Think of it as a kind of spring cleaning. Remember everyone is different, so some of my tips may not work as well for you but it’s worth a try (and as most of my readers know, I recommend keeping a daily log of your diet and activities and stress level). Here are “Dede’s daily tips” as follows:
- You should eliminate all sugar from your diet.
- They say no alcohol or coffee, but maybe a tiny bit of black tea, or half a cup of coffee with boiling water a day. I also have one or two drinks over the weekend. Vodka tonic or gin and tonic; sometimes I have a light beer.
- No dairy. That said, I do allow myself 1 tablespoon of half-and-half in my tea or coffee per day. That’s my only luxury!
- No grains at all! Focus on big salads (with avocado and organic vegetables and a hard boiled egg in the mix—make your own dressing with pure olive oil and a little bit of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar)), and chicken, fish and eggs (all organic and the fish should be cold water/wild caught), and chopped nuts and dried fruit.
- Start drinking green, organic Moroccan mint tea in the afternoon for a little pick me up, and snack on carrots and hummus. At night, always drink a cup of chamomile tea with a little honey. This will help you de-stress your body. And mind.
- Try to get out and exercise, usually walking (or slow jog), 3 miles per day. When you come back, do gentle Rodney Yee yoga for about 20 minutes, and then do guided meditation for about 1 to 5 minutes. When you do guided meditation try to focus on healing and forgiveness and bring the breath from the top of the head down the spina. Focus on the breath. I always do a cleansing mantra that goes like this: white light healing inflammation gone.
- Try to get at least seven hours of sleep a night
- Take a hot bath or shower and use lavender in the bath before you go to bed. Try to read a book before you go to bed to take your mind off social media, etc.
- Get acupuncture once a month. Get a massage once a month (I know this is expensive, but it’s worth it!)
- Take a really good quality probiotic every night before bed. I usually take the Jarrow brand with the highest count of lactobacillus and acidophilus.
- Take omega-3, a multivitamin, vitamin C, hi high-potency turmeric/curcumin, and some liquid vitamin D drops every day.
- When you feel a tiny bit of a scratchy throat or rundown, add an immune booster homeopathic liquid (usually it’s about 30 drops in water) once a day before going to bed. Note: when I’m really feeling sick, with actual symptoms like cough or fever, I take goldenseal and echinacea in liquid drops.
- Carry a small spray canister of Bach Flower Remedy in your knapsack or purse. When you really feel rundown or stressed, just spray twice in your mouth. It really helps!
- As far as this list goes just try it for three months and see if it helps, then continue for three years (!). But really do it carefully! You can make things using almond flour and coconut flour (homemade tortillas, yum—black beans are okay in moderation and I mix them with roasted veggies/roasted potatoes).
- I forgot to mention that I love coconut milk—unsweetened—that you can use for breakfast. I usually mix bananas and nuts with dried fruit and cut up melon or strawberries in a bowl and add coconut milk to make a kind of morning cereal.
- Drink tons of water every day as well! I think that’s it… but I hope it helps.
Try to plan some kind of trip, and remember, it doesn’t have to be expensive or involve air travel which can add to the stress. Just a trip to the beach or a hike with a friend or loved one is a great way to relax. Going out in the woods every day is amazing.
Happy Spring! I would love it if readers shared their own tips in the comment area.
When you read Dede’s latest medical assessment (in the photo), you will see that she has no symptoms…and then read down, and see the symptoms/possible side effects from the medication!
That was May, 2013. In her checkup this past October, the doctors said they are amazed at her condition and attribute it to her and Jessica Black, ND’s low-inflammation diet and lifestyle! They told her that no medication is needed at this time, but only if symptoms occur.
The diet, the exercise, the yoga/meditation, and working with her naturopathic physician as well are all doing their job!!!
High-potency turmeric (curcumin phytosome), a prescribed probiotic powder (Dede buys all her supplements from her naturopath’s office… Expensive, but worth it for the best quality), ultra potent C, Omega 3 fish oil, Phyto-multi vitamins, magnesium with calcium, D3 liquid drops, and a daily adrenal assist (herbal) pill provides key nutrients and botanicals to support adrenal response to stress and support the ability to adapt to stressors and restore balance.
As we move into the wonderful month of February, with longer days and a holiday/school vacations, now is the time to think about training for a walk or a run (Team Challenge, or a CCFA.org walk—http://www.ccfa.org/get-involved/team-challenge.html). Set a goal… Also, add a visit to a naturopathic physician, and try acupuncture (with a trained practitioner who is recommended… If you are nervous about needles, ask for Moxa).
These anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle changes are a big part of your wellness campaign. Take it one day at a time. Get out in nature (and snow) every day! And continue to heal, and restore balance in your life…
Since it is almost Thanksgiving, I thought I would write a post to wish everyone a happy, stress-free holiday, and try to help those with IBS, Crohn’s, and UC who may need some encouragement and advice.
We all know holidays can bring on the stress-inducing behaviors and hormones that cause internal signals to flare up in the body. When I was at the Mayo Clinic a few (short) months ago, I learned so much about controlling stress—make stress-reducing activities a priority, starting today, and leading up through the holiday season.
Your lifestyle structure is even more important here: daily exercise, gentle yoga, meditation, sleep, etc. Schedule appointments with professionals to help you lessen stress in your life: a talk therapist, acupuncture, massage (gift cards are good holiday presents for those you love!), etc. Do what makes you feel good about yourself AND relax! (I went to the salon yesterday for hair color!)
Tryptophan is one of the 10 essential amino acids that the body uses to synthesize the proteins it needs. It’s well-known for its role in the production of nervous system messengers, especially those related to relaxation, restfulness, and sleep.
I am now aware why I love turkey so much—I sometimes even crave it. I always feel more relaxed after I eat turkey, and this may explain why….There are many researchers who study the way tryptophan manufactures serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is found—guess where?—in the intestinal tract. Just about 90% of the body’s serotonin is actually found in the gut, so my gut tells me to eat it, and I am not even a biochemist!
Tryptophan has the ability to raise serotonin levels, too! Wow, who knew this? I love the fact that I can eat turkey and sample other holiday foods like nuts, seeds, bananas, pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes, green beans with almonds, pearl onions (those sweet little ones, not the canned and creamed kind!) WITHOUT having a flare up. Also (again, who knew?!), Tryptophan also boosts the production of B3, and since I had a partial bowel resection in 2006, I need to keep track of my B vitamins (especially since my terminal ileum is completely gone, I have lost the capacity to fully absorb vitamin B12).
Everything I eat is sourced, and mostly bought from local farms. It is not that hard to do. For instance, our turkey is a Vermont-raised, free running turkey, and I picked it up yesterday from our local food coop. Potatoes are from here, also butternut squash, apples, pumpkins—are all from Vermont; cranberries are organic and from Cape Cod. I will be baking apples, too—delicious and easy. Some of us cannot eat nuts or cranberries, so avoid, but there is plenty to choose from!
Here are some tips: drink water before your meal to fill you up so you don’t overeat, take small portions, walk after the meal. If you have an ostomy, take extra supplies and a change of clothes to your hosts’ party. If you avoid sugar and alcohol, you will be less likely to flare up; also don’t try ANY food that is not on your list (remember the food journal from the book!).
On Wednesday/tomorrow, I will make some pies to drop off at our local Thanksgiving Day dinner for those less fortunate in our area—Don’t forget to do something to help someone else in need this week, and after. With all the holidays upon us, plan some special time each week to volunteer (soup kitchen, helping those who have been in a house fire, helping veterans, etc.). Thanksgiving was set as the fourth Thursday in November. This year, something amazing and historic has happened: After sundown on the second of Hanukkah’s eight days, we will also celebrate Thanksgiving. If you are Jewish, there is an even busier holiday!
I will post some recipes on my Facebook page! Be well, and breathe … A bit of dietary research unravels mysteries of cravings from this writer with uc/Crohn’s disease….Happy Thanksgiving & holidays everyone!
RX, Flare—Where to begin…. Here are some lifestyle tips, from Dede, who has been in remission from Crohns for almost eight years…. Do not despair.
“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”
—The Dalai Lama
Take control: hydrate, sleep, exercise, yoga meditation, daily…
Walk 1-4 miles per day
Sleep at least 8 hours per night (take powdered magnesium bicarbonate—Dede likes “Natural Vitality’s Natural CALM in the Raspberry-Lemon flavor, drink fresh-squeezed lemon-lime-flavored water all day long (carry glass water bottle with you, and the new ones are encased in non-breakable plastic or rubber)
Drink herbal teas—Chamomile, dandelion root, peppermint— and also Green Tea that has caffeine, but also comes in decaf.
Movement & Meditation
Start a gentle yoga DvD (Rodney Yee’s a.m. Yoga is wonderful), and set up a “yoga studio” in your house or apartment somewhere (mine is in the basement with an old TV, but I have made it my own with a little table and a small wooden Buddha, candles—it is peaceful and my own space).
This yoga will lead to guided meditation. Even 5-10 minutes a day improves patient outcomes! A local class or “sangha,” is a nice way to learn to meditate.
Watch Your Diet
Once you get in tune with your body, you can start to really tell if certain foods make you begin to flare and you can back off immediately and note in your journal to keep track.
Keep a list of safe foods, foods to avoid.
Body Care—It Pays to Be Beautiful!
Use essential oils to sniff daily. I like lavender oil in my bath, eucalyptus oil in the shower
Massage your feet every night before you go to bed. Use a nice moisture lotion (with lavender, if you like it), and I add organic apricot or sesame oil to make it thicker.
Take some “Natural Calm” magnesium powder each night in a hot glass of water before you go to bed… You will sleep better!
Massage the back of your neck—press with acupressure in the “still point” at the base of your skull—get a friend, or spouse, to help.
Speaking of….ASK FOR HELP! Don’t do what I did, which was to lie in bed and retreat from the world for days at a time…the only trip to the bathroom for a journey…. Ask for help—on Facebook, or pick up the phone.
See a therapist, once a month, or join a group for IBD, Crohn’s, colitis, or autoimmune disease.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, or environmental action group…. Altruistic behavior helps you to let go of stress.
Last, but not least, LAUGH every day! Watch the stupid pet videos… Or this goofy video my friend, Dodie, sent me this morning… She is going through cancer treatment, and she is very brave and a wonderful friend, who retains a sense of humor!
I have used mediation and mindfulness steadily since my bowel resection six years ago, and I have made a daily practice of morning yoga and mediation.
When I sit at the end of my yoga session (I use the gentle Rodney Yee DvD, “A.M. Yoga,” I let Rodney’s soothing voice guide me into a place where my breath is quiet, my mind quiets (that can take a while with me!), and my shoulders and ears and limbs are relaxed (look at statues of sitting Buddhas, and you will notice the elongated ears, the fingers in the lotus position, the downcast eyes…).
I chant “Om,” before and after I sit, and I have a visualization that I let pass through my body from my head down through my spine, and out my lower back—it is a ball of white light. While this luminescent ball moves down my spine, I have a mantra I chant over and over that goes like this: “White light healing inflammation gone.” It is amazing to me how grounded and refreshed I feel after each morning session.
I have recently become influenced by the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn—the founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. He also travels across the country teaching workshops on stress reduction and mindfulness.
I also like this book, as a good starting point for introducing mindfulness and meditation into your daily lives… As I prepare to go to the Mayo Clinic next week, I will reread this book, and meditate… Just 10 minutes a day for starters, and I hope you will join me. I’d love to hear what others have to say about introducing mindfulness into their lives, and what the do and recommend.
This post was also published by Len Saunders in Your Health Journal, today! I am honored to be a part of this healthy outlook website, and glad they used my meditation tip for #198!
“One thing I teach: suffering and the end of suffering.
It is just ill and the ceasing of ill that I proclaim.”
In a recent study, Mental Training Increases Physical Strength, by Erin M. Shackell and Lionel G. Standing from Bishop’s University in Quebec, a group of college students were asked to IMAGINE strength training versus a control group who did nothing and another group who did the actual physical work.
One area (hip flexing) was identified for groups of 10 college student-athletes to work on for the two-week study. The 10 college students who did the actual strength training five days a week did four sets of eight repetitions, adding 5lbs of weight, and they saw strength training improvement of 28%. The group of 10 that did nothing saw no gains; and the group that practiced visualization saw gains of 24%! This study was unique in that the group imagining themselves doing the reps actually did nothing after that—it was pure visualization.
The idea of using mental practice to improve performance has been around as long as Buddhism, founded 2,500 years ago. Exactly how visualization changes physical health remains a mystery, but the Dalai Lama spoke of the process of training the mind through meditation when I heard him speak this past October. I was profoundly affected by his talk; in fact, I am writing a book with Travis Hellstrom, called Questions for the Dalai Lama & Daily Quotes for Hope, due out in 2014—visit our website here, and please join us—we like to receive questions, and you may be in the book! Those of us in the Crohn’s-Colitis community live with suffering sometimes on a daily basis. It is important to develop and train your mind as a way to cope with this.
Additionally, studies have shown that altruistic behavior (the inherent, and possibly genetic ability to help) improves medical outcomes—so a good New Year’s resolution:
Do something kind for someone or something every day. My own daily intention is this: May our thoughts be kind and clear. May our words and communication be kind and clear. May our actions and intentions be for the greater good of all beings.
I have used mediation and mindfulness steadily since my bowel resection six years ago, and I have made a daily practice of morning yoga and mediation. When I sit at the end of my yoga session (I use the gentle Rodney Yee DvD, “A.M. Yoga,” I let Rodney’s soothing voice guide me into a place where my breath is quiet, my mind quiets (that can take a while with me!), and my shoulders and ears and limbs are relaxed (look at statues of sitting Buddhas, and you will notice the elongated ears, the fingers in the lotus position, the downcast eyes…). I chant “Om,” before and after I sit, and I have a visualization that I let pass through my body from my head down through my spine, and out my lower back—it is a ball of white light. While this luminescent ball moves down my spine, I have a mantra I chant over and over that goes like this:
White light healing
It is amazing to me how grounded and refreshed I feel after each morning session.
Now that my Crohn’s has gone into a full-blown flare, I am sobered by the realization that the disease has been spreading back up my small intestine from the site of the surgery (see my recent post, What Causes a Flare Up). However, I have heard from numerous health practitioners that a positive outlook actually affects disease outcomes, so my goal is to be as upbeat as possible while I begin this new drug-and-naturopathic protocol (low dose naltrexone, Glutamine, vitamin D and C, high potency turmeric/curcumin, and the rest of my daily supplements including increased probiotics).
I am also committed to getting back on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) that helped me so much six years ago! My colleagues, Jordan and Steve, have since developed a really great website and resources based on the original book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle, by Elaine Gottschall.
How Does the Specific Carbohydrate Diet Work?
By eliminating complex carbohydrates, lactose, sucrose and other man made ingredients from the digestive process, the body is finally allowed to start healing. As gut flora levels start to stabilize, the reduction of irritants from undigested foods, toxins and other man made ingredients allows inflammation levels to retreat.
So, for all my readers, followers, fellow uc-ers, Crohnnies, and friends—keep on with visualization and positive thinking, especially as we embark on a new year with new beginnings.
My quest to lower inflammation in my body, actually throughout my body but focused on the enteric nervous system, is ongoing. Since the enteric nervous system is intertwined with the lining of the gastrointestinal system, it makes sense to pay attention to the one hundred MILLION neurons in the gut, home to the “second brain.”
Another little-known fact is that more than 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the gut. My own experience is that I function better when I am actively releasing and secreting serotonin, which, for me, is achieved by riding my bike, and/or running, mostly.
I like to think that the gut needs to be toned, like a muscle; it is fact loaded with muscle and the lining is multifaceted and complex. When inflammation occurs in the gut, usually a combination of things contribute to a build-up of this, and the white blood cells and helper cells that normally race to an infection can’t do their job properly, and things get out of balance.
The parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system is a complex, and sometimes emotional, system within a vertebrate body. I often go to a physical therapist who specializes in a technique called Integrative Manual Therapy. Her name is Deborah Feiner, and I consider her a kind of healer. I have benefitted tremendously from working with this type of therapy. I relax totally on the table, and we often joke about the rumblings of bowel sounds that immediately occur when I relax (these are good bowel sounds, not the loud rumblings I had before my surgery!). During my session, a kind of toning occurs along my intestines, and she guides her hands around my stomach, almost intuitively. It is amazing, I would never have done this before my surgery, when my life changed totally. I would have been too insecure.
I will leave off this entry with a photo of me, with another photo of Debbie behind me by Phil Innes.
I was going to post a recipe… But will do that next time! I have been getting lots of sleep, exercise, and doing daily gentle yoga (Rodney and Colleen Yee) and guided meditation. I also take the ground flax seed and probiotics every night after dinner…. I am regular in my bowel movements, and much less stressed in my daily life: it seems to be working!
I’ve often wondered where expressions like “I feel it in my gut,” or the ubiquitous “butterflies in my stomach,” came from. As a layperson, writer of a new book on living with Crohn’s disease, and Crohn’s disease patient, I am fascinated by the connection between the brain and gut.
According to a New York Times article (Blakeslee, S. “Complex and Hidden Brain in Gut Makes Stomachaches and Butterflies,” January 23, 1996), the gut’s brain, “known as the enteric nervous system, is located in sheaths of tissue lining the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. Considered a single entity, it is a network of neurons, neurotransmitters and proteins that zap messages between neurons, support cells like those found in the brain proper and a complex circuitry that enables it to act independently, learn, remember and, as the saying goes, produce gut feelings.”
After reading the New York Times article, I came across Dr. Gershon’s book, The Second Brain, when I was struggling with a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome. Dr. Gershon is chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City and is a pioneer in research related to the gut/brain relationship. In his book, he presents a fascinating combination of neuroscience and gastroenterology. Dr. Gershon has devoted thirty years of research to this “brain in our bowel” science, and his writing is persuasive and passionate.
Emeran Mayer, M.D. also theorizes that just as meditation calms the mind, it can also relax the bowel and promote healing. In his research clinic at UCLA, he has found that most patients notice an improvement almost immediately after starting to practice meditation.
In my meditation practice, I strive daily to “open up my heart,” which is for some a symbolic act (or a spiritual affirmation) that reinforces my commitment to healing my self and reaching out to the world and the spiritual forces that I feel guide me. Since I am tall (almost 5 foot 9 inches), I sometimes slouch, and hold my shoulders inward; nowadays, I remember my dance training and pull my shoulders back, which helps me focus on opening my heart.
When I get those “butterflies” in my stomach—one example is having a client call you up and berate you over the phone if a publishing job is late (yes, this does happen, and once a client fired me after a weekend-long Crohn’s flare-up!)—I sometimes tell my client to “please wait a moment,” and I go sit on a pillow on the floor and take a few deep breaths and feel a weight lifted from my heart and abdomen; then, I pick up the phone.
I often use the following intention to end my yoga practice and also as an overall stress reducer: “May our thoughts be kind and clear; may our words and communication be kind and clear; may our actions and intentions be for the greater good of all human beings.”
Expert guidance for the many who suffer with IBD
Approximately 1.5 million people in the United States alone are afflicted with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a category of illnesses that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and that number is steadily growing.
In our new book Living with Crohn’s & Colitis (Hatherleigh Press, 2010) we offer patient-focused, expert guidance on everything from the latest medical treatments, to how to cope with a diagnosis, along with tips for balancing diet with a busy lifestyle so you can form a personalized wellness plan. The authors, Dr. Jessica Black and Dede Cummings, collaborated to offer a hopeful and authoritative resource for digestive disorder sufferers from both the doctor’s and patient’s pespective.
The authors offer these tips for better digestive health and wellness:
Improve your diet. The very first change that should occur in patients wanting to improve their health is a dietary change. Even minor dietary changes can affect health significantly and usually larger dietary changes can bring even better results. Diet is extremely important to health. Try avoiding processed foods and foods with additives, colors, and preservatives. Avoid sugars, especially items sweetened with refined sugars such as high-fructose corn syrup.
Make lifestyle changes. Changing your lifestyle can be liberating and engaging. It allows one to become more aware of their body and changes that are occurring, as opposed to merely taking a drug and waiting for the symptom to disappear. Integrating whole-body treatment and lifestyle changes can help to improve overall health rather than focusing on one issue or one specific problem. One important lifestyle change to make is creating a routine and rhythm for yourself. Go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time and eat meals at the same time. Routines promote better breathing and better, more relaxed, breathing creates better health and better resistance to illness.
Begin an exercise routine. Exercise is one of the most important lifestyle practices to adopt when considering treatment options. No matter what your physical state is, there is always something you can do for exercise. Following a daily plan is essential to maintaining good health. Try walking at first if you currently don’t have an exercise program. Thirty minutes to one hour walking outside can help improve mood and energy.
Maintain a holistic approach to your health. Taking supplements, getting a stool sample analysis, and going to a psychotherapist, massage therapist, or naturopathic physician are all effective starting points to building an overall, holistic, treatment plan that achieves results for patients suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
Increase laughter in your life. Laughter is extremely important for emotional and physical health. In fact, researchers in Japan found laughter very effective in reducing inflammatory cytokines in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Laughter, along with socializing with friends and joining a support group through your local hospital or naturopathic health clinic, can really be beneficial. You may try joining a social networking site on the internet, like CaringBridge.com. Renting funny movies is also an easy and quick way to promote laughter.
Increase body awareness. For an entire week, try writing in a journal all the symptoms your body has and everything you are doing and eating. Be sure to record all symptoms, from the most minor crick in the neck to low back pain, to headaches, to diarrhea. By doing this, you can learn how your body is trying to communicate with you, how you can listen to your body, and then change if you need to.
Try yoga or meditation. Meditation is an extremely important, yet very simple, relaxation tool. Yoga is a great way to relax and is most effective by adopting a regular routine. Try a DVD at home or you can join a class with a trained yoga teacher.
There is an excellent yoga DvD from Rodney Yee that I do almost every morning—and following this yoga practice helps eliminate stress in my life and keep me in remission.
AM Yoga for Beginners with Rodney Yee and it retails at GAIAM.com