This week brings awareness to a disease that is very close to my heart: Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which includes 2 conditions: Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. December 1-7 is Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week!
The reason I am very interested in these diseases is because I happen to know hundreds of people who live with IBD. Many of these people are children; others are adults who have been diagnosed since their childhood. What would surprise you is how “healthy” these people look on a given day. The truth is inside they can “hurt” at any time. Crohn’s and Colitis affect the digestive tract. Yes, that means it causes all types of GI distress including diarrhea, rectal bleeding, urgency, cramps, abdominal pain and constipation, amongst others. These symptoms can cause weight loss, fatigue, anemia, loss of appetite, etc.
For the past 2 years, I have had the opportunity to volunteer at Camp Oasis. It is one of the reasons I look forward to summer time! Before I attended camp as a counselor, I “knew” some of these people. At least I thought I did. I knew them as a medical professional. I was aware of the symptoms they experience, which include the endless number of pills, shots and vitamins they need to take several times daily. I knew that their “bad” days were far worse than any of my bad days. What I didn’t know, was their real struggles. I didn’t know the difficulty they experience trying to live life. I didn’t know all the events or experiences they miss because they had a bad day – I mean, a real bad day! I didn’t know the uncomfortable moments they experience more often than not; those moments when people make fun of how often they have to run to the bathroom or how long it takes them once they do go. Yes, it’s uncomfortable…they know it, we know it! What I did know, before and after camp, was how amazing these people are. I knew how strong, supportive, determined, disciplined and happy they are! Camp Oasis is a place where campers and counselors can share their experiences, fears, joys and struggles in a judge-free zone. They are able to enjoy an array of fun activities with new and old friends while having the chance to teach others with the same condition. Click here to see a video of this year’s camp: Camp Oasis 2013.
You may be surprised to find out that a coworker, a friend, a neighbor, your son’s teammate or your daughter’s classmate may be living with IBD. At this time, there is no cure for it. There are several treatment routes, many of which are still being researched…this is why we must raise awareness!
As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I have had to educate and create nutritional plans for many of my patients - both children and adults - who either have a new diagnosis of IBD or are experiencing a flare-up (a period of time when symptoms become active). Since Crohn’s and Colitis affect the digestive tract, nutrition is very important. IBD increases the risk for malabsorption of many nutrients. Some of the basic nutrition points of living with IBD - whether you are in remission or experiencing a flare-up - include:
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Ensure that all food groups are included – if you can tolerate them.
- Digestion starts in your mouth. Chewing foods well helps start the digestion process. Chew, chew, chew!
- Make sure that you are eating foods that are good sources of calcium and vitamin D (think dairy sources or either lactose-free dairy or enriched dairy alternatives if you are lactose intolerant). Many of the medications that are used to manage IBD can affect your bones in the long term. You may need additional supplementation – check with your physician or registered dietitian nutritionist.
- Eliminate hard to digest foods from your diet. These include corn and popcorn, nuts and seeds. These foods can cause irritation and can be very dangerous when there is risk of obstruction in the digestive tract.
- Include iron rich foods in your diet. Iron is an important mineral, especially in IBD. It helps restore losses that may occur with bleeding. If you have iron deficiency, you may be fatigued regularly. Good sources of iron include meats (beef, tuna, chicken, liver), beans, leafy greens, and fortified cereals.
- In addition to iron, consume sufficient calories and protein. Protein helps with tissue healing which is extremely important when you have inflammation. Calories will help ensure proper weight is achieved or maintained and will lead to proper growth when balanced with adequate protein. These nutrients in addition to fats will provide you the energy needed for daily activities.
- Fiber is very important in your diet except during flare-ups. Most of the time, make sure you include whole grains, fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. During flares, back off until symptoms resolve, then reintroduce it slowly. Fiber can help your stools become more solid and less watery.
- Hydration is essential. Drink plenty of fluids – water is best but oral rehydration solutions may be necessary at times. Avoid sugary or carbonated beverages.
For more information on IBD visit: Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.