Crohns disease is a chronic and prolonged inflammatory condition of the intestines
which usually occurs in the small intestine and the first section of the colon.
At present there is no cure for this condition as no definite cause has been discovered.
There is some evidence linking pathogenic bacteria and it is hypothesized that
the inflammation experienced is due to a prolonged immune response to these bacteria.
This condition, along with ulcerative colitis, can be categorized under the umbrella
term of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). In Crohns disease, all sections of
the lining of the intestinal wall become inflamed which dramatically reduces the
lumen and therefore can result in a vast decrease in space for food to pass through
and can cause blockages and constipation. However, ulcerative colitis only affects
the mucosal lining so blockages are less frequent but absorption is still reduced.
Treatment for these conditions involve controlling inflammation. One effective
method for achieving this is by using probiotic supplements. Some strains of probiotic
bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium
longum have shown to exert anti-inflammatory effects while improving bacterial
flora and preventing pathogenic bacteria from thriving. Other anti-inflammatory
nutrients include Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and herbs such as Turmeric, whose
active ingredient curcumin, has shown potent anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer
Coeliac disease occurs as a result of an intolerance to cereal foods, or more
specifically gluten, or more specifically still, gliadin (gluten is composed
of glutens and gliadins but it is thought that the gliadin components cause
the damage). It is commonly thought of as a wheat intolerance, but gliadin is
present in other cereals such as barley, oats and rye. The disease itself is
caused by an immune reaction to these gliadin peptides (very small proteins)
and results in our own immune system damaging the cells of the intestinal lining
and in particular, the villi. The villi are finger-like projections which protrude
from the wall of the intestine to increase the surface area for absorption.
Therefore if these structures are damaged, and in Coeliac disease they are destroyed,
then the absorptive capacity of the small intestine is greatly reduced and the
characteristic flat intestinal lining can be seen. Treatment for this condition
is, in theory, simple. Dont eat any foods which contain Gluten. However, in
practice this is far more difficult as it is sometimes impossible to tell if
a food contains this protein, especially if in a restaurant. However, new government
regulations now means that any allergenic material should be clearly labeled
on food products. Therefore, not only will gluten containing ingredients need
to be declared on the label, but also any ingredient in which gluten has been
used in its manufacture. Complete cessation of the consumption of gluten containing
foods will totally cure the condition and its symptoms (which include bloating,
abdominal pains and mild nutrient deficiencies), but the problem will arise
again if gluten is consumed.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is slightly different to the above conditions
but the symptoms are similar. IBS is thought to be caused by a combination of
stress and an over-sensitivity to stressful situations. As explained earlier
the digestive tract has a very complex network of nerve cells which help regulate
the complicated process of digestion. The colon (large intestine) is controlled
by the autonomic part of the nervous system, which also regulates heart beat
and breathing rate. Stress can increase both of these and can also cause irregular
bowel movements. However, people with IBS respond to very mild stress which
causes the major symptoms of constipation and/or diarrhoea. The reason why IBS
patients suffer both of these symptoms, which are in essence at opposite ends
of the scale, is thought to be due to the disruption of peristalsis. Peristalsis
is the name given to the movement of food along the digestive tract and depends
on the contraction and relaxation of specialized muscles in the lining of the
intestinal walls. These muscles are controlled by the nervous system and during
bouts of IBS, following a stressor, the communication between nervous system
and muscles seems to get confused. This results in irregular movement of waste
food as sometimes it is pushed through far too quickly which results in diarrhea,
and sometimes it stops the movement of food altogether, and may even force it
in the opposite direction, resulting in intestinal blockages and constipation.
At present there is no cure for this condition however, there is promising research
for the use of a specific probiotic bacteria for the treatment of this syndrome.
Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (Lp299v) has shown in scientific studies to help
reduce the severity of symptoms of IBS. One particular study showed improvement
in 95% of patients taking Lp299v.
The health of the intestines is vital as complications with this system can
lead to many more disease states. The importance of keeping a healthy bacterial
balance is becoming more apparent and more people are taking notice. However,
it is also important that a proper diet is followed. Epidemiological studies
show that communities consuming high fibre (complex carbohydrate) diets and
a higher water intake have the least risk of bowel problems, including cancer.
Whereas, communities that consume more simple carbohydrates are more at risk.
In a nutshell, the advice is simple. Consume more fibre, keep a healthy bacterial
flora and dont eat like a Sea lion!
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