Colitis and Crohn’s disease are conditions in which the gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed. In colitis, the rectum and occasionally, the lower colon are affected. Crohn’s disease, on the other hand, tends to affect the entire GI tract (mouth to the anal sphincter) although it usually afflicts the small intestine.
Both conditions share the symptoms of relapsing bouts of severe and frequent diarrhea sometimes mixed with blood and mucus as well as stomach tenderness and cramping. Other symptoms include nausea, constipation, undigested food, malaise, loss of appetite, and loss of weight due to weakened absorption capacity of the intestinal mucosa. Ulcers can form in the intestinal walls. They also become inflamed and swollen.
Another digestive condition, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), does not feature the same degree of inflammation as colitis and Crohn’s. Actually, biopsies and scans of IBS reveal normal tissues. What is abnormal is the bowel’s function which makes it an easier condition to treat than colitis and Crohn’s.
There is no clear reason why colitis and Crohn’s occur, although at times, they can be triggered after an emotional trauma or infection. This indicates a psychological as well as an autoimmune connection, which again reminds us of the usually overlooked relationship between the gut and the heart/mind.
The mode of treatment used by Western medicine for these conditions includes anti-inflammatory drugs such as oral steroids and immune suppressors. When complications occur such as colon perforation, profuse bleeding and other severe complications, these medications can be life saving treatments, and so should always be respected.
If used properly and correctly, herbal therapies can very much increase the chances of long-term healing or even a cure.
TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment) for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease
TCM addresses Crohn’s and colitis with an array of modalities and herbs made popular by the great Chinese physician of the 13th century, Li Dong Yuan. Li was an outstanding gastroenterologist who was responsible for the development of sophisticated herbal formulas to resolve the many symptoms and factors of bowel diseases. The formula known as “Effective Remedy for Digestion” (Jian Pi Ling) is one such example of these combinations, which still is used by TCM practitioners for the treatment and cure of bowel conditions.
To know how TCM actually works and why they often are so effective, it is important to analyze and deconstruct the above formula. This concoction is a combination of 13 different herbs, grouped by their effect. These herbs include:
1. Licorice root and roasted Ginger root: Licorice root is a fascinating TCM herb that possesses several unique qualities which makes it a very common ingredient in a lot of herbal prescriptions. Because of its powerful anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties licorice can also clear toxins from the gut and intestines. It is also used to help control withdrawal symptoms from steroids. Unlike other detoxifying herbs such as goldenseal and dandelion which have a bitter taste, licorice root ironically is sweet to the taste and precisely because of this sweet quality this herb is able to act as a harmonizer and tonic as it simultaneously detoxifies the body. Harmonizing means that licorice has the ability to bring together and harmonize the different actions of the herbs in any given formula, so instead of interfering with the effects of the other herbs, licorice helps the other herbs in the concoction to work together to help subdue the symptoms of the disease. Tonics strengthen the body and usually have a sweet flavor. Licorice root has a mucilaginous, slippery quality that neutralizes the bitter taste of the other herbs in the abdomen. Ginger boosts digestion by warming the digestive system. In TCM, this sensation is like an oven constantly warming cooked foods. Roasted ginger root also has the ability to cure diarrhea.
2. Pulsatilla root; Coptis root: Both these very bitter herbs have strong drying and detoxifying properties which are ideal in treating infection, fever, and burning and foul of smelling stool, and in lessening mucus. These two herbs have a broad anti-inflammatory and antibacterial action, and are used as a short term treatment for acute and severe bouts of symptoms.
3. Catechu resin, Ume plums: These astringent and sour herbs have the ability to heal and bring back the GI tract’s mucosal linings, and dry non-healing sores. Ume plum has very strong anti-allergic attributes. Chronic inflammation can start to affect assimilation and absorption of foods causing them to be become irritants. This can occur even if the person did not start out with food allergies.
4. Corydalis root, Aucklandia root:Cordyalis and Aucklandia can restore the normal movement of qi (vital energy) in the stomach region. Excessive urges to defecate, spasms, and pain tell the body that vital energy is flowing erratically in fits and starts causing abnormal peristalsis of the intestines. These herbs’ acrid and aromatic flavors indicate powerful natural chemicals that have the ability to normalize peristalsis.
5. White peony root, Dang gui root/Angelica: Being blood tonic ingredients, these two herbs, are ideal treatments for anemia in cases with bleeding ulcerations. Peony root also possesses strong anti-diarrhea and anti-cramping effects.
6. Atractylodis root, Codonopsis root, and Astragalus root: These three herbs are digestive organ tonics, which means they considerably boost the function of the digestive organs. They are used for the symptoms of recurrent, severe, and chronic diarrhea that is both an indication of digestive weakness and qi deficiency caused by too much draining of the bowels. Astragalus is a powerful stimulator of the immune system. It has a specific quality that helps enhance qi energy in the body. This is especially helpful in cases of fatigue accompanied by chronic diarrhea. Like all ginsengs, Codonopsis has an intimate relationship with the digestive organs, and has a light warming effect in the digestive system.
Although already a powerful treatment in itself, Jian Pi Ling is just a start up formula for colitis and Crohn’s. Each person will manifest the symptoms of a bowel condition in his/her own way peculiarities, which means that formula herbs are removed and others added in a concoction. Occasionally, there is excessive inflammation and damp toxin that the tonics don’t have the proper herbs to address these symptoms. This is the reason why you should never treat your condition yourself and why you a need qualified herbalist for the treatment of your condition.
Bleeding, which occurs in ulcerative colitis, is a condition which can be treated by a formula containing carbonized sanguisorbia root or Sophora flower and Notoginseng herbs.
Processing the Herbs
TCM uses carbonizing as one processing method for herbs. This is done by charcoaling or burning to black the herb. This process is meant to boost an herb’s ability to stop absorb toxins and stop bleeding by making the herb very astringent. Carbonizing is one simple method that can modify an herb’s effectiveness and action completely by inducing in it sequences of biochemical changes. One other processing method is dry roasting until the herb turns brown. This was seen in the case of ginger root. Dry roasting entails stir frying the herb in vinegar to bring about relief of pain. The herb can be steamed with wine to boost warming tonification. If stir fried with honey, the herb can help treat moderate spasms and other symptoms.
Dietary Therapy for Colitis and Crohn’s
Sufferers of Crohn’s disease tend to suffer from lactose intolerance. They should not only avoid dairy products but also too much fiber and wheat as they are hard to digest and break down. For all inflammatory bowel conditions, TCM diet therapy prescribes the so-called “clear bland diet”, which includes a clear broth made of white rice, pearled barley, lean meats, and vegetables.
Crohn’s is a less common disease than ulcerative colitis (UC). TCM treatment for UC is currently intensely researched in China. The outcomes of these studies have so far been encouraging. One highlighted study involved 596 participants. At the end of the study, 62% were deemed cured with no incident of relapse after 6 months, and all except 6 showed improvement.
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