Because no single way of eating works for everybody.
By Dale Sproule, guest blogger
When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 1975, so little was known about the condition that my first doctor told me I had peritonitis. I went home and looked it up in my grandmother’s medical encyclopedia (thank you internet for making life much easier), and the words that have stuck in my brain for the past 30 odd years were, “usually fatal.”
When they had peeled me off the ceiling, the first thing I did was go to an emergency clinic, where they calmed me down and sent me to a new doctor for a second opinion. The second doctor sent me straight to a gastrointestinal specialist who zeroed in on the true cause of my troubles: Crohn’s Disease. But even he couldn’t tell me what caused the condition.
It got bad. After eight years of almost unbearable flatulence and chronic diarrhea, I ended up developing what is called a fistula – which is essentially an intestinal tributary. They’re like little intestines that go off in search of something they can attach to. As you can imagine, this is never good. It can attach to your bladder or vagina. In my case, it took the most common route and attached to the abdominal wall, where it formed a baseball-sized abscess. I almost died during the procedure, which required a scraping down of all the surrounding organs and removal (or resection) of about six feet of intestine. I shared a hospital room with a man who only had a few feet of remaining intestine and whose own condition had cost him a kidney, several bladder operations and numerous other complications. My mood was pretty grim.
I was repeatedly told that this was a “chronic” condition that could not be effectively treated, since they had no idea what caused it. Most of the drugs used to treat it threw complications of their own into the mix, ranging from increased likelihood of kidney stones to increased likelihood of cancer.
After the operation, I was faced with all sorts of dietary restrictions. Even back then – in the early days of Crohn’s research – they had evidence that animal protein tended to aggravate the condition. It was recommended that I eat lots of raw fruit and vegetables, but that was a disaster that caused me considerable pain and inconvenience. I quit smoking which turned out to be a very good idea in the long run. I tried selectively cutting foods from my diet – but neither milk nor flour seemed to have any causal effect. After trying and discarding several homeopathic treatments, I discovered that the single biggest contributing factor was simply getting rid of stress. As the stress in my life decreased and the happiness increased, my condition markedly improved. But the symptoms didn’t go away. Until…
Over the years, I began to notice a major correlation between my consumption of beef and the arrival and severity of the symptoms. Having grown up in Alberta, I liked my beef; but when I started to eliminate beef from my diet I felt better immediately. The few times I did eat it were followed by bouts of severe flatulence and bloody bowel movements. Hmmm.
It worked so well that I was willing to try cutting other meats from my diet, but it turned out to be unnecessary. As soon as I started avoiding beef, my Crohn’s disease went into remission. I can eat similar meats like bison with no effect, and over the past several years I’ve discovered I can eat natural/organic beef. But conventionally-raised beef is out.
So, although I’m the furthest thing from a doctor or nutritionist, I can happily report that I found my own cure. And evidence is pointing to the strong possibility that this may be true for many of us. Modern studies suggest that (according to Wikipedia’s article on Crohn’s) “Crohn’s Disease is not one disease, but an umbrella of diseases related to different pathogens.” The ubiquity of the disease in modern times definitely suggest that there are environmental factors – giving credence to ideas like the cold chain hypothesis, which suggests that bacteria which thrive in artificial refrigeration may be the cause. If you’re me, you could be forgiven for making the assumption that hormone injections, or some other aspect of conventional cattle-farming, may be another cause.
It may well be that our genetic adaptation to the modern world brings with it an increased risk of Crohn’s Disease, Colitis, IBS and a host of related conditions.
And while we can’t prevent these conditions through vaccination, it would probably be wise to consider the possibility that each of us has our own specific triggers. Scientists have isolated over thirty different gene mutations that may be associated with Crohn’s disease, so it’s no wonder there’s no universally effective treatment.
Some things clearly work well for everyone with Crohn’s: quit smoking, reduce stress and change your eating habits so that you have a number of smaller meals rather than just a few large ones. But in addition to seeking out expert opinions, consider the possibility that when it comes to you and your health… you may be the only dependable expert.