TCM for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term used to describe two conditions:

  1. Ulcerative Colitis (UC)
  2. Crohn’s Disease

Both are are long-term conditions that involve inflammation of the gut. Because they are both autoimmune conditions, there can be frequent flares or long periods of remission depending on individual circumstance.

Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon (large intestine). Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus.

What are the symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Symptoms of IBD include:

  • pain, cramps or swelling in the lower digestive tract
  • recurring or bloody stool
  • weight loss
  • extreme fatigue

Not everyone has all of these symptoms. Some people may have additional symptoms like fever, vomiting and even joint pain.

How do I manage Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

While we don’t know the exact causes of IBD, dysfunction of the immune system is always involved.

If you have mild ulcerative colitis, you may need minimal or no treatment and remain well for prolonged periods of time. Treatment aims to relieve the symptoms and prevent them returning.

For mild cases, dietary and lifestyle changes, if done well, will be all you need.

For others suffering from more severe Inflammatory Bowel Disease, one or more of the following interventions are often used:

  1. Aminosalicylates: to bring down inflammation in the intestinal lining.
  2. Anti-inflammatories: Steroids are the common port of call.
  3. Antibiotics: to treat possible bacteria-induced inflammation.
  4. Immunosuppressants: drugs like Azathioprine are used to to reduce the activity of the immune system.
  5. Biologics  – specific antibody-based treatments given by injection that target a specific part of the immune system.
  6. Surgery: About 20% of people with severe UC may not get better with medication. Surgery takes out the part of the digestive tract that are too  damaged by the condition. Around 60-75% of sufferers with Crohn’s disease may require surgery to repair damage to their digestive system. In about 20% of patients, an ileostomy or ileoanal anastomosis is performed.

A diagnosis of UC or Crohn’s Disease almost increases your risk of colon cancer.

How does TCM treatment work treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

From a Chinese Medicine point of view, we are treating causative agents like Wind, Cold, Heat, Damp, Dietary Excess and Emotional Dysregulation. Some patients have a colder presentation, others have bodies that run hot.

From a herbal pharmacognosy perspective, there are herbs that have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory properties; there are also herbs that help regulate the intestinal mucosa.

In the end, the end result is a cessation of inflammation in the body, up to the point where the diarrhea and bleeding stops.