Crohn’s disease causes, symptoms, treatments and role of gut bacteria

Crohn’s diseaseCrohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD,) which affects the intestines by causing inflammation. This inflammation can trigger abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss and malnutrition. Inflammation can occur anywhere in the digestive tract and affects individuals differently.

Crohn’s disease is also an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s own immune system believes the digestive tract is harmful and attacks it. For this reason, the condition can spread to many areas. Like many autoimmune diseases the cause is unknown, and there is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease. There are, however, treatments to ease pain and discomfort associated with Crohn’s disease and treatments to aid in problematic symptoms.

Gut bacteria and its role in Crohn’s disease


Gut bacteria Crohn’s diseaseA recent study published in Cell Host and Microbe had researchers analyze the gut microbes of children receiving treatment for Crohn’s disease. What they found was that although diet-based and anti-inflammatory therapies alter gut bacteria, they do not restore a normal balance.

Co-principal investigator Gary Wu, M.D., said, “We show that microbes in the gut respond to treatment of inflammatory bowel disease in a much more complex way than has been previously appreciated. The results of our study provide information that could be used to track or predict disease, as well as new diet-based therapeutic strategies.”

Early Crohn’s disease in children can cause developmental issues, such as stunted growth, delayed puberty and weakened bones. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories are common treatments for Crohn’s disease. As of yet no special, specific diet has been proven to help alleviate Crohn’s disease symptoms.

The study was conducted on 90 children with Crohn’s disease who were being treated with a formula-based diet and anti-inflammatory therapy. These children were compared to 26 healthy participants. Fecal samples were analyzed with shotgun metagenomics sequencing. The researchers found that the diet and the medication had different effects on gut bacteria.

Neither treatment fully restored the gut bacteria to its normal balance. The use of antibiotics as associated with highly disturbed communities and an increase in fungi in the gut. The diet-based treatment reduced inflammation and decreased fungi but altered the gut bacteria even further away from being normal.

First author, James Lewis, M.D., added, “These data are a step to trying to identify ways to manipulate the gut microbiome to provide favorable outcomes to patients with Crohn’s disease. We observed that upon initiation of a therapeutic formula-based diet, the gut microbiota look even less similar to that of a healthy child, suggesting that one does not have to necessarily give back the healthy microbiota to have a therapeutic effect. It is possible that the effect of the formula diet is through mechanisms other than altering the microbial community.”

Researchers will continue to study formula-based diets as a means to aid in Crohn’s. Lewis concluded, “We hope to use this information to develop diets that are less restrictive but equally effective, or medications that mimic the mechanisms of the formula-based diets. We also hope to study other diets that are popular among patients with Crohn’s disease in the coming years.”

Causes and risk factors of Crohn’s disease

The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is still unknown. As an autoimmune disease the immune system plays an evident role in its cause, but the specifics are still unclear. Another possible theorized cause is that the condition is heredity; researchers have found that those with close family members who had the disease are more inclined to develop it.

Possible risk factors for Crohn’s disease include:

  • Age – It most commonly occurs in younger individuals before the age of 30
  • Ethnicity – Caucasians, Eastern Europeans and Jewish people are at higher risk of developing Crohn’s disease
  • Family history
  • Cigarette smoking
  • The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Where you live – Crohn’s disease is more prevalent in urban areas

Signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease

Signs associated with inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract include:

  • Signs and symptoms of Crohn’s diseaseDiarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Sensation of incomplete bowel movement
  • Constipation

Symptoms associated with a general inflammatory bowel disease are:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of normal menstrual cycle

Other symptoms of Crohn’s disease that may occur are:

  • Inflammation of the skin, eyes and joints
  • Inflammation of the liver or bile ducts
  • Delayed growth of sexual development in children

Lifestyle and home remedies for Crohn’s disease

Although there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, there are lifestyle and home remedies you can try to experience relief from symptoms and better manage the disease.

  • Diet – Although a set diet has not been proven to help Crohn’s, some foods have been known to aggravate the disease. Dairy products, high-fat foods, high-fiber, spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol should be limited or avoided.
  • Eat smaller meals.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Consider taking a multivitamin.
  • Talk to a dietician.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Minimize and manage stress.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Regular relaxation and breathing techniques.
  • Take probiotics and prebiotics.
  • Use acupuncture therapy.
  • Reach out to others with Crohn’s disease for support.
  • Keep yourself informed about new treatments and information that becomes available.
  • Talk to a therapist.

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