In this article I share my own success story with Crohn's Disease following a Paleo diet and learning how to treat Crohn's disease naturally eating real food.
I am not alone in healing my Crohn's disease with a grain free diet. Countless others with Crohn's, Colitis and other autoimmune diseases have healed themselves naturally following popular grain free diets such as the Paleo, SCD and GAPS diets. I believe it's important to share as many of these success stories as possible, as public knowledge about the health benefits seen with these diets has been slow to spread outside the dedicated Paleo community.
Going into Remission from Crohn's on the Paleo Diet
Let me start with my results following a Paleo diet for the last several years. I truly believe that eating this way has been the biggest single factor in getting my health and life back. Although my progress was slow in the first year, over time it is impossible to ignore the effect following the Paleo and SCD diets have had on my health.
During my most recent medical scope exam to check for signs of Crohn's, my medical report listed my Crohn's as "inactive". Although sufferers of Crohn's do go into remission from time to time, having no visible signs of Crohn's was all the more amazing considering how bad my health had become prior to starting on a Paleo/SCD/grain free diet.
My Struggles with Crohn's Prior to Starting the Diet
If my story can help one person dealing with autoimmune issues, I am happy to share it.
In my early 20s, I first started noticing having digestion issues regularly. After merely hoping they would go away, by my mid-20s my symptoms got bad enough that I was convinced to see a doctor. After seeing several specialists, I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease.
By my late 20s, my Crohn's had become substantially worse. I saw several specialists who prescribed several different medications, from antibiotics to ASA drugs, in an attempt to keep the symptoms under control.
As I turned 30, it was found that my intestine had become so full of scar tissue from the Crohn's that it was almost completely blocked in one area, and I desperately needed surgery to remove this portion of my small intestine.
My first Surgery
Although the surgery was a success and for the most part I began to feel much better after about the 6 month recovery period, there were still lingering side effects from the surgery.
I did have about 2 years of relative calm and a big reduction in Crohn's symptoms after the surgery. But after about two years I began to again have Crohn's symptoms starting to come back, indicating the disease was returning. At one point while traveling in California, I even ended up in the hospital due to a partial blockage in my intestine.
After going through another several rounds of medical tests it was found the scarring in my intestine had mostly returned and that my small intestine was again becoming dangerously close to becoming obstructed. By the 3rd year after my initial surgery, I was back to having a difficult conversation with my doctor.
Having Surgery every Few Years?
In speaking with my doctor, it was clear I would likely soon need to have another abdominal surgery to remove another portion of my small intestine due to scar tissue. The only alternative option I was given was to try some of the strongest drugs developed for Crohn's disease.
Several of the stronger drugs prescribed for treating Crohn's cost thousands of dollars annually, require regular IV infusions and have potential side effects like liver issues and for a small portion of the population complications like Leukemia.
It was at this point, feeling like I was trapped in a viscous cycle of surgery and major drugs that I began looking for alternatives.
My experience with Paleo and Crohn's Disease
At this point, looking back, it is clear that my switch to this new way of eating was the turning point for me in terms of my health. Within a month on the diet I could feel that something had changed for the better, despite plenty of remaining health issues.
Within a few months, I could see gradual health improvements for the first time in a long time. I slowly saw my health issues melt away.
My First Months on Paleo
As is common for people first starting out on Paleo, I did experience many of the initial sugar and other cravings after first starting on the diet. But given that I was already so sick, it was hard to distinguish which of the symptoms were carb withdrawal and carb flu versus normal Crohn's symptoms.
As time went on, I could start to perceive my digestion improving and some of the pains related to my intestine subtly starting to heal. The improvements came in fits and starts, and given the long term damage of the scarring in my intestine, it was hard to tell which symptoms were active Crohn's Disease, which were directly related to the narrowing of my intestine and which were lingering side effects from my prior surgery.
But given that it was clear that things were improving and given that this felt like my last chance at a natural solution to my health, it was easy to make the decision to continue to throw myself fully into this new way of eating. I gave myself time to learn to cook in this new way, and scoured the internet for advice on the best way to ease into foods that are traditionally hard to digest with active Crohn's and Colitis.
It takes time. Improvements to IBD on Paleo
Slowly, my body healed. As I introduced new Paleo approved foods back into my diet my body was increasingly able to process them.
As is often discussed in the Paleo/SCD grain free community, I listened carefully to my body. If I reintroduced a new ingredient into my diet and it did not agree with me I would cut out that particular food for several months, and try reintroducing it at a later time when more healing had taken place.
Using this process I uncovered a sensitivity to eggs, which once reduced in my diet, led to a substantial level of healing.
Pharmaceutical drugs and Crohn's Disease
Following the Paleo protocol, I have slowly been able to wean myself off of all of the medications I had been taking for Crohn's. Many of the drugs I had taken over the course of being treated for Crohn's I would consider to be quite serious, with serious side effects, so I am very happy to be off of these medications.
For example one drug that was prescribed during the period prior to me starting on Paleo had been originally developed as a medication for transplant patients to suppress their immune system so their body would not reject a new organ.
At another point years earlier when first diagnosed with Crohn's, I had been prescribed to take regular doses of a very strong broad spectrum "third-stage" antibiotic, one of the last defenses against serious infectious diseases. At this point I just have to hope that I don't catch something where I really need an antibiotic as I have likely built up quite an immunity!
I did not rush to stop taking all drugs immediately after starting Paleo, but instead did this in coordination with my doctor. As my symptoms began to improve substantially while eating Paleo, it wasn't hard to argue that these strong pharmaceutical drugs were no longer needed.
My Health Today
Today, almost 4 and a half years after starting on a strict Paleo/SCD based diet, I feel better than I did when I first was diagnosed with Crohn's disease over 10 years ago. Amazingly, many of the symptoms related to the irreversible scar tissue in my intestine caused by the Crohn's and surgery seem to have improved dramatically, something that was unexpected.
I couldn't be happier with the decision to eat this way and it's effect on my overall health. In addition to clearing up my autoimmune disease symptoms, I also have noticed other benefits of going Paleo such as not getting a cold in years, and finding my energy levels have increased.
Getting the Message Out
The message to patients diagnosed with these diseases is often that pharmaceutical drugs and surgery are the only option for treating and for relief from these conditions. Given the huge advertising budgets of pharmaceutical companies, this is also the prevailing message I have seen online, through the media and by organizations such as the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.
Although it's true that diet may not be the right approach for everyone and that medication and surgery may be necessary for those who are very ill and need emergency treatment, I believe it is important that the word gets out there about alternative approaches that have worked for others with these diseases. Dietary approaches can be in many cases be tried as a compliment to initial drug treatments rather than replace them.
The Paleo community has done a lot to get the message out about possible health improvements with grain free diets. Whether you are doing the Paleo, AIP, SCD, Gaps or another grain free diet, you now have the benefit of grain free products and services catering to the Paleo community such as Paleo on the Go's delivered meals. Not having to cook all of your meals when trying out a grain free diet can help take one of the more stressful tasks off of your plate, especially when also dealing with a new health diagnosis and possibly adjusting to new medication.
Who are the People Behind the Paleo Community?
The mainstream media often paints a picture that everyone following the Paleo diet is hoping to lose weight for the beach. From what I can tell this excludes a big portion of the community.
In looking at the bio's and hearing the stories of some of the most adamant proponents of the Paleo lifestyle, such as bloggers and authors who have been doing the diet for many years, in many cases the reason these people are so dedicated is that they have seen dramatic health improvements on Paleo.
For example, did you know that Rob Wolf, one of the original and most well know authors in the Paleo community had suffered from Ulcerative Colitis and used the Paleo diet to heal himself? I just learned this recently.
If you are suffering from Crohn's disease or IBD, I hope this story inspires you to keep looking for answers. For me, the results of eating Paleo on my health have been nothing short of phenomenal.