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 or your loved one was first diagnosed with IBD, you probably felt like your life and taking a sudden spiral downward. You may have found yourself in the state of utter confusion, a deep-seated feeling of loneliness and depression taking root in the very core of your being. This may sound dramatic, but too many sufferers of both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis feel this way in response to their diagnosis. The good news is that the better informed you become about your newly diagnosed condition, the better off you will be in the long run.
One problem that many people with IBD know all too well, is that these diseases, especially Crohn’s disease, can reoccur. Although therapies can reduce signs and symptoms, often the hope for full remission is stymied by widely varying factors.
Treatment options often include hospitalizations, surgery, and medications, but they rarely include a holistic approach that incorporates acupuncture, a new diet (potentially wheat-and-dairy-free), stress reduction, psychotherapy, yoga and meditation, naturopathic medicine, and a special protocol in detoxification.
When the proper groundwork is set for healing, the treatments, lifestyle practices, and even pharmaceutical medications, are much more effective at reducing symptoms and promoting healing. Our bodies were meant to function as a whole, and treatment plans should always be directed at the whole body to achieve the desired effect of wellness.
For me, as a Crohn’s disease patient, I benefit so much from going to see my regular doctor (an M.D.), and my naturopath (and ND), as well as my IBD specialist at the clinic at Dartmouth. I hope that someday soon, all three will be able to work together seamlessly. Until that time, I have to be the instigator, and make sure that my medical records are sent to all three places, and I have to be very proactive to stay on top of my appointments, asking my questions, doing my own research, and creating my own support system. All of the specialists and doctors are very busy people (as most of us are), and it is imperative for those of us with IBD, or our caregivers, to be very motivated.
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. But make a list of things to do:
- Walk every day—start small, and gradually add miles. . . . A walk on the beach, like my friend in the photo, really releases stress. Do a short yoga stretch before or after!
- Buy a new water bottle—I love my 22-ounce LifeFactory glass water bottle with the rubber exterior!), and take one step at a time.
- Find a recommended naturopath in your area.
- Make sure you have at least yearly appointments with all the doctors on your “team.”
- Embark on the new dietary guidelines in this book.
- Take a high-potency probiotic (I take 1 capsule daily, called VSL#3, that really seems to be helping by bowel movements), or one that is recommended by your team.
- Consider asking your MD or ND to do a complete blood work-up, and also to test your adrenal function.
- (Last, but not least,) Work with a naturopath, preferably, to balance the immune system to achieve homeostasis that is promoting wellness in your mind and body.
Happy Spring Detox and Motivation….. And Happy Almost Summer!
Dede’s friend, nutritionist Chris Ellis, is so knowledgeable and I’ve been bugging her to do a book with, too…. Here is a good overview of the Paleo diet.
Since I reported in my last article that I was a vegetarian some people may wonder why I would write about the other side of the diet spectrum, the currently popular Paleolithic Diet, which contains a significant amount of animal protein. I would respond by saying that every individual has specific dietary needs and not everyone biochemically or mentally feels at their optimal health being a vegetarian. I think everyone just needs to be aware of the choices and to do what feels best for their body physically, as well as what feels right for them philosophically. I would encourage individuals to be mindful of the impact their choices have on the environment and the earth too. In this article I am providing a little more insight into the Paleolithic Diet and hopefully that might help in exploring what type of eating plan works best for you or your family.
The Paleolithic Diet is a modern version of the diet that was followed by our ancestors many thousands of years ago. The diet was different wherever humans lived, depending on what animals also lived in the area for hunting and the availability of plants and seafood. The Paleolithic Diet was practiced prior to modern day agriculture and the domestication of animals. The diet consists of grass-fed animals such as beef and chicken, seafood, eggs, wild plants including vegetables (lots of root vegetables except potatoes), fruit, nuts (no peanuts), and seeds. The diet contained an ample supply of omega-3 fats mainly from the seafood, nuts, seeds, and the grass-fed animals since we had no surplus of corn and soybeans to feed our wild animals. Cereal grains are not a part of the diet and these include wheat, corn, millet, rice, barley, oats, sorghum, and rye. These grains were not available back then and they all need to be cooked in order to be consumed. The proponents of this diet believe that what humans ate back then is better suited genetically and biologically to our nutritional needs. Our human makeup is not coping well with the many changes in our present diet according to those who advocate for this diet and our bodies are not adapting well to the modern way of eating, specifically all the high calorie, highly processed foods. The root of many chronic health problems we face now, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cognitive disorders like depression and Alzheimer’s, are related to the diet most people follow in this country.
The changes in the modern diet include an increase of refined carbohydrates and cereal grains, a decrease in animal protein, a decrease in omega-3 fats, and an overabundance of sugary and salty foods such as candy, pretzels, chips, soda, etc. The modern American diet is comprised of approximately 50-60 percent carbohydrates, 15 percent protein, and 25 to 30 percent fat calories. The Paleolithic Diet, however, is comprised of approximately 25 to 30 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrates, and 30 to 35 percent fat calories. The introduction of processed foods in the late 1800s definitely had an impact on the quality of our diet, and as our food supply became more industrialized the variety of crops and foods grown declined. But that is making a turnaround now, especially in Vermont, fortunately!
Humans are meant to eat a diversity of foods for optimal health but our diet today offers not only a wide variety of foods and ingredients but excess calories (sugar, unhealthy fats, corn products, etc.) far different from the hunters and gatherers regimen. We do not have to go far to get food, so very few calories are burned to “hunt or gather” our food. It is available on every corner depending on where you live, so long as you have the economic means to gather it.
So should we all eat the Paleolithic Diet? There are benefits to “eating Paleo” but our modern Paleolithic diet cannot duplicate the one followed by our ancestors. We are aware that there are benefits to a minimally processed diet and no matter what diet we choose we should strive to follow that. There are many good eating plans available (vegetarian, Mediterranean, Asian, etc.) and some may or may not contain meat and/or animal protein. It is best to consume animal protein from grass-fed animals (ideally with as little pesticides from their food as possible) with little or no use of drugs or hormones, safe wild seafood (not all fish is safe, as we know), and eggs, along with plentiful amounts of vegetables, seeds, nuts, and fruit—the basic Paleolithic Diet modified based on the dietary sources we have now that meet the guidelines. Choose an eating plan that you can follow that is optimum for your health and don’t forget to include an exercise component since that was an essential part of the Paleolithic lifestyle. We will all enjoy a longer healthier life if we follow some or all of the Paleolithic dietary guidelines!
Questions? We’d love to hear from our readers and their own experiences with the Paleo Diet and IBD.
In the photo, from Living With Crohn’s & Colitis Book co-author, Dede Cummings, you can see the yummy roasted veggies that are perfect for the Paleo diet! The recipe is in my new cookbook, too!
At the beginning of the new year, we checked in about following a 3-4 month plan for wellness.
The main thing to focus on is that it takes time to change habits, and sometimes having a tough diagnosis, like Crohn’s, IBD, colitis, celiac disease, diverticular disease, etc., can really scare us and throw us for a loop. Dede has found that taking control of your life and learning everything you can about your auto-immune diseasee, is a good first step. Ask questions of your doctors during interviews, and seek out local health practitioners that are recommended and certified—finding a naturopathic physician with a four-year degree and experience is an important step. Remember, naturopathic physicians can suggest a variety if options for your health plan, and augment what you are doing with the GI clinic.
A few years ago, when my GI was adamant that I start 6MP and Remicade, I was despondent and scared. My naturopath said to look at it another way, that if a patient has no choice (given their quality of life), there could be other supplements and a range of beneficial treatments to help alleviate symptoms from the drugs. Many of us have no choice! We are lonely and confused, to say the least.
After sobbing on the kitchen floor after my recurrence in November of 2012, I picked up the phone and called Portland, Oregon (where Jessica Black, ND, my co-author lives and practices naturopathic medicine), and asked for help. She recommended the curcumin-high-potency turmeric I now take daily (along with other supplements), and reassured me so I felt less overwhelmed. (I never did start the drug regimen, and remain in remission for the second year!)
Since we are embarking on the “new year plan of wellness,” let’s check in about some goals, and where we are now:
1. Continue previous points: a no-wheat, sugar-free diet that focuses on fruit and veggies and is organic; getting lots of restorative sleep (see photo of a how to make your bedroom a sanctuary!–this is from Hotel Vermont, but still!), daily yoga, meditation, and exercise, and a positive attitude….
2. Add an additional supplement or herbal medicine—talk to your doctor or naturopath about Vitamin D, or Omega 3.
3. Begin the Tapping for Energy technique (in our book) or daily acupressure. Dede likes to massage her feet before bed, using a nice mix of moisturizer and sesame or apricot oil. It is amazing how much stress is in our feet and the acupressure points relate to organs in the body. It is a great routine to press gently on some of these points — the bowel area is at the bottom of your feet (on both sides), and mostly I just press in gently and firmly and relax into the pressure—especially before going to bed. Look for a recommended acupuncturist, and make appointments for once a week for 4-weeks… See if it helps (if you don’t like certain needles, ask for Moxa!)
4. Experiment with adding more anti-inflammatory foods and spices into your diet. Last night, I made a fish curry with garnishes of bananas, raisins, chopped apples . . . yum!
Message me if you want the recipe. It was mild, not too spicy, and used Haddock filet.
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!