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Treating Crohn’s Disease - A Functional Medicine Approach

by in Digestive Health
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b2ap3_thumbnail_Abdominal-Pain-Is-It-Appendicitis_article_main.jpgI first met Todd* with his wife in October 2016. He had been diagnosed with Crohn's disease (an autoimmune inflammatory bowel disorder) three years prior.  His symptoms included abdominal pain and loose stools with blood and mucous.

During our first visit, I learned that during the time his symptoms began Todd had been under increased stress with an upcoming wedding, a change in employment, and home renovations.

He had originally been treated with sulfasalazine, a common prescription medication for Crohn's, however, the medication made him nauseated and his symptoms were not well controlled. He had been unable to increase the dose as recommended due to side effects.

Todd continued to have frequent loose bowel movements within 15 minutes of eating, often associated with mucus and blood. He was experiencing sharp localized abdominal pain with activity, and the pain was limiting his ability to perform his physically strenuous job as an electrical lineman.

Prior to our first visit, Todd and his wife had already explored holistic options for his treatment. He had tried digestive enzymes, probiotics, and homeopathic remedies without relief. He had also completed a two month trial of a gluten-free diet but was unsure if that made any difference.

At our first visit, I ordered a comprehensive laboratory evaluation to screen for:
  • Inflammation
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Anemia
  • Hormone balance
  • Candida/Yeast
  • Celiac disease
I also ordered Functional Stool Testing.

While waiting for results, I recommended that Todd begin a four-week Comprehensive Elimination Diet, and provided educational materials and book recommendations for support with this.

Blood testing revealed low levels of zinc, and significant vitamin D deficiency, but was otherwise normal. Functional stool testing indicated significant intestinal inflammation and low levels of "good" gut bacteria.

Recommendations were customized for Todd based on his laboratory results (no more “guessing game” when it comes to supplements):
  • Vitamin D (which supports the immune system response)
  • Zinc carnosine (a key factor in the health of the intestinal lining)
  • Fish Oil (a natural anti-inflammatory)
  • Immunoglobulin powder (derived from colostrum)
  • VSL#3 - A high-dose prescription-grade probiotic (this brand has solid evidence supporting its use in the treatment of Crohn’s)
I also prescribed Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN), an opioid antagonist that has an outstanding safety profile and has shown promise in the treatment of Crohn’s in both adults and children with minimal side effects.

Two months after initiating diet changes, LDN and targeted supplementation, Todd reported his pain improved by at least 50% with some pain-free days and improved energy. While still experiencing blood in his stools, he described it as much less than before.

I recommended he add a glutamine/aloe combination to promote further healing of the intestinal lining.

b2ap3_thumbnail_intestines.jpgAt six months Todd reported that he continued to experience significant improvement and was very pleased with his progress. He described his pain as minimal, with only minor flares "nothing like it was before”. He had good energy and stamina and was no longer having any work pain. He had become a “believer” in his regimen of supplements and LDN, having forgotten them on two nights, each time with a symptom flare.

While bowel movements had earlier been improved, he had since noticed increased blood and mucus in his stools, so a low dose of Sulfasalazine had been restarted.

He continued to cautiously experiment with his diet, determining his “trigger foods”.

This past fall I was able to meet with Todd and his wife for his one-year follow-up. He reported great energy and stamina, no work pain, and no blood in his stools.

While still on the low dose of Sulfasalazine, it was a dose that did not give him side effects and his symptoms as a whole were nearly resolved. Follow up laboratory testing showed normalized levels of iron, zinc and Vitamin D.

I ordered comprehensive nutritional testing at this visit, which allowed us to customize Todd’s diet and supplement needs. His testing showed a need for B-vitamins, as well as magnesium and enhanced antioxidant support to reduce oxidative stress in the intestinal lining. Based on this testing, I also recommended he begin to reduce the amount of animal protein in his diet, transitioning to plant-based proteins.

In just one year, Todd was able to get much better control of his Crohn’s disease through changes in diet, targeted supplementation, and lower-doses of prescription medications without side effects. He had normalized bowel movements, no blood in his stool, minimal pain and improved energy. I look forward to continuing to work with Todd and his wife to optimize his nutrition, simplify his regimen as he continues to heal, and achieve further success!

*Patient names are changed to protect privacy

Carin Nielsen, MD Integrative Medicine I use an Integrative/Functional Medicine approach with my patients to treat a variety of chronic medical conditions, including many autoimmune conditions. Treating symptoms simply by prescribing medication as a “band-aid” does not address the underlying factors that contributed your problems in the first place, and is not likely to provide lasting results. My approach involves getting "under the surface” (using assessments like estrogen metabolite testing) to find and correct underlying imbalances. If you are interested in learning more or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact our office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 231-638-5585.