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.
It is our hope that our readers have benefitted from the New Year, 3-month, Plan for Wellness. Here are seven painless and simple at-home acupuncture steps you can do to maintain good health and vitality. I recommend acupuncture and we had a wonderful guest blog post a few months ago that a lot of our readers thanked us for.
My naturopath also has me on a total “detox” regimen that includes castor oil packs, meditation (I use Rodney Yee’s “AM Yoga” DVD, or try Jon Kabat-Zinn’s wonderful collection of relaxation CDs), skin “sloughing” before shower (which entails roughing up your skin with a loofah sponge from your extremities toward your heart and encourages new cell growth), drinking plenty of water, regular exercise and daily yoga, counseling with a social worker or psychotherapist, weekly (free) REIKI and monthly massage visits, acupuncture sessions monthly, and physical therapy with integrative manual therapy-healing. A good attitude also helps. I regularly repeat to myself positive messages like:
“Don’t let this disease rule your life and get you down, but when you need to, ‘Ask for Help!’”
This simple YouTube mindfulness video by Jon Kabat-Zinn is wonderful, and Dr. Kabat-Zinn was one of the first to bring mindfulness into medicine!
The suggestions I receive from my naturopath are an attempt to enhance my body’s natural elimination processes through the digestive system, kidneys, skin, liver, and lungs. All are essential to help me optimize elimination with minimal aggravation while also undergoing specific treatment suggestions with my gastroenterologist. I have found this support team and naturopathic/acupuncture treatment to be extremely effective as an aid that can dramatically lessen the physical effects of inflammatory bowel disease.
These seven relaxation techniques are really easy to do at home. I do them before my shower daily! Foot massages are also very beneficial, which I do before bed with some moisturizer (I add a bit of organic apricot or sesame oil to the Pure Essentials moisturizer to thicken it up, and I also put cotton socks over my feet if calluses are bad), as well as candle-lit hot baths with lavender oil drops in the water.
- Brush your gums and tongue. Spend at least 5 minutes each time you brush (longer is even better). Set a timer because 5 minutes may seem like a very long time at first. The acupuncture points along the gums match with the entire body system, as does the tongue.
- Brush your scalp. Remember when moms insisted that we always brush our hair for 50 strokes? Turns out, there are hundreds of acupuncture points on the scalp itself. For a quick session, massage the governing vessel 20. This point is located at the very top of the head, the point of 100 meeting points, which enables you to access several channels at once. Spend time massaging your scalp with your fingernails and even while you shampoo.
- Push back your cuticles on your fingers and toes. Just the act of pushing back your cuticles stimulates acupuncture points that go directly to every muscle and tendon in the body, bringing on relaxation. Need to keep a small child quiet at an event? This works like a charm. Plus you can trace every finger front and back as well.
- Loofah your body. This is a hard sponge that softens with use. Loofah plants can be grown, and are much softer than those found at most department stores. (Note: when purchasing a loofah, be sure it says ‘loofah’ on the package.) Use the loofah wherever there is skin. There are thousands of acupuncture points all over the body. If you find a sore or itchy spot, spend extra time there. It is likely that it is an acupuncture point that needs stimulation. Electricity is accumulating there and stimulation via massaging or using a loofah disperses this accumulation. Before showering, use the loofah sponge to aggressively rub from the extremities toward the head, beginning with the arms, then working up from the feet. After you rub all the dead cells off your body, an invigorating shower further energizes you and allows for the stimulation of new cell growth.
- Moisten your nasal membranes. When you splash water on your face, keep water on your little fingers. Put your little fingers inside your nose and moisten all around. You do not need to sniff water up into your sinuses. Moistening your nasal membranes increases your chi (your body’s bio-electrical energy).
- Breathing exercises. Most of us are chest breathers, rather than abdominal breathers, so we tend to breathe shallow most of the day. On inspiration (breathing in), push your stomach out as far as you can. On expiration (breathing out), let your stomach fall back to neutral. This is very difficult to do at first without thinking about it. When you breathe with your abdomen it forces the diaphragm to drop and thus increases your lung capacity. This is why singers practice breathing so that they are able to sustain notes much longer. Breathing leads to more oxygen, more chi and more energy.
- Massage your face, hands, feet, and ears. You can do this yourself, but it is more relaxing and fun if done by someone else. These areas also treat the entire body individually.
(Grateful to Patricia S. Wesley, D.C. for her support)
Daily massage and stimulation will increase blood flow, help improve the effectiveness of your current therapies, improve mood, decrease inflammation, and promote healing.
Remember to think positive, and here is a wonderful quote and photo from the XIV Dalai Lama.
We like to hear from our readers, and thanks for helping spread the word about our book and recommendations!
—Dede, a Crohn’s disease/ulcerative colitis patient perspective—post surgical removal of ileum, large segment of Sigmoid colon, and fistula/granuloma mass—symptom-free for the past eight years, but still a Crohnie/uc-er by definition…
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…
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!
Greetings fellow Crohnnies and UC-ers, and summer travelers,
I love to travel, and left home when I was eighteen even to live in Europe by myself for a year. I settled in Vienna, Austria, and loved the culture and the people. The diet, however, was not the healthiest, and I gained twenty-five pounds by subsisting on Würst, and bread, and of course beer. I remember, when I came back from Europe, my father looked at me and said, “you’ve gained twice the Freshman 15, and you didn’t even go to college!” ha, ha ha.
Well, here I am, many years later—with college, marriage, and three wonderful children behind me, and I have to say that the one good thing that having Crohn’s disease has done is I don’t give a shit about my weight, and I just eat what I can and make no apologies to anyone! (Sorry to use a swear word, and be so blunt!). My weight has stayed at around 140, which my gastroenterologist says is “perfect,” because I eat healthy food all the time—hardly any sugar, no fried food, no fatty food, no wheat, very low-fat dairy, exercise daily, and maintain a low-stress lifestyle.
The reason I am writing this post today, is not to talk about our American culture’s OBSESSION with food and being thin as a sign of success; no, it is to talk abut the opposite—love your body and cherish your family and take responsibility for your own health and education.
I say this because for years, seriously, I wallowed in self-pitying behavior during my Crohn’s flares, which pretty much happened monthly, and had the nasty habit of joining with me having my period (good timing, eh?). I used to crawl into bed, and sometimes cry quietly, so as not to disturb my kids. After driving them to school (during one of these flares), I would frequently pull over to the side of the road in my car, and just put my head on the steering wheel and sob. It took me years to ask for help, and by the time I was finally diagnosed, my disease had basically devoured my terminal ileum, for it was beyond repair due to repeated flares leading to scarring.
So, having first had symptoms of ulcerative colitis (I have this, too!) after I returned from Vienna (remember my unhealthy lifestyle, horrible diet, and self-loathing attitude?), fast forward to 2006, to when I was admitted to the ER with a stomach the size of a basketball, and a severely impacted bowel that was about to rupture…I finally admitted that I was one sick person and I needed help.
That was my first step toward getting well.
Inside my head, I was constantly thinking about what I could or could not eat to stay thin, and be attractive—I smoked cigarettes to curb my appetite and utilized the diuretic aid that nicotine provides; I also worked all the time and exercised in fits and starts, and tried to diet, off and on, but always gained the weight back.
Having my kids and childbirth helped me let go of inhibitions (having my third baby stark naked in the OR and not caring one bit about my big belly or flabby legs 😉 was a great release for me—I always wanted to be trim and fit and “in control.”
One thing having Crohn’s has taught me is that sometimes when you lie on the cold and smelly bathroom floor with your arms wrapped around the toilet crying for your (not very nurturing) mother, you are clearly not in control!
Here is a link to a recent article about yoga and body image, and I was interviewed by the wonderful writer, Linda Sparrowe!
A disordered body image isn’t always about weight, of course. Dede C., a graphic designer from Vermont, remembers the time she was in a yoga class practicing handstand and her shirt came up, revealing a huge scar on her belly that she hated and felt ashamed of—a result of multiple surgeries. Her yoga teacher told her she was beautiful. “But my scar,” she said. “Your scar is beautiful, too,” he said. “It’s a part of who you are.”
So for my fellow Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis readers, and people who love you who may also be reading: let go, and by that I mean ask for help, but also study everything you can about your disease and admit you have a serious disease that can even lead to death. Don’t be polite at potluck dinner parties; at restaurants, ask for rice, well-steamed fresh local veggies (especially available in summer), and baked fish especially made for you if the menu doesn’t have easy-to-digest food (I just did this in Rhode Island on vacation last week, and I also politely sent back a dinner because something didn’t taste right and I trusted my gut—the fish was a bad piece, it turned out! And no way am I going to get food poisoning again…).
As I write this blog, I pledge not to offer “tips for this or that, digestive disease.” Instead, I offer up my interpretation of current medical research (remember, I follow gastroenterology papers, studies, and the like, with the zeal of a pre-medical student!), and personal stories that will, hopefully, help people cope and learn about their disease, and thrive!
I’ll post a few vacation photos (that’s me with my daughter and I wore a “tankiny” bathing suit that occasionally showed my scar and I did not even think about it!). I would love to hear how people are doing—travel with IBD is a challenge, so if you can’t take off this year, have a “home vacation,” with a week off from work and time away from computers! Get a hammock, read a great novel (Shadow of the Wind is my current favorite and it is set in post WWII Barcelona!), and watch movies….. Release stress daily, which is key to long-term health.
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!