IBD 101: So you have Inflammatory Bowel Disease. What is it?
What is IBD?
IBD is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system creates proteins called auto-antibodies that attack your own body. Normally, antibodies are produced in order to attack and get rid of unwanted invaders like bacteria, but with an autoimmune disease, we end up producing antibodies against our own body’s tissue.
Types of IBD include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC).
Can I get rid of an autoimmune disease? By definition, no. Antibodies are forever.
Once your body has created an antibody, you will always have those antibodies ready. This is also how we have immunity to an infection, so we don’t get sick from the same infection over and over. The degree to which these autoantibodies are being stimulated is the degree to which the disease ‘flares’ (is active = symptoms) or is in ‘remission’ (is quiet = no symptoms).
However, we can optimize the management of IBD, either so you may not need medications, or so you can feel healthier and minimize your use of medications and risk of relapse.
How does that happen? By investigating and addressing the underlying drivers that may cause and exacerbate inflammation in your body. While standard IBD treatment involves using medications in an attempt to quiet inflammation, those of us practicing Functional medicine want to dig deeper and ask: why is there inflammation in the first place?
Why do we end up creating self-antibodies and inflammation? Current medical science does not have a clear answer, but we think it is related to infections, genetics, epigenetics, the early-life development of your gut microbiome and other factors that influence the gut microbiome (such as antibiotics, diet, toxins, and stress).
What we do know is that no two cases of IBD are exactly alike, which is why different people can have such varied responses to therapies.
How does Functional Medicine approach IBD?
In Functional Medicine, we focus on understanding each person’s individual drivers of disease: both the causes (as best as we can determine them) and current activity. We do as much as possible to ‘peel back the layers:’ first calming acute flares, then working to heal the immune system, gut microbiome, eliminate triggers, and heal any “collateral damage” as much as possible.
Collateral damage, or health issues outside of the main area of disease (the gut in the case of IBD) are common in chronic health issues. When we have chronic immune stimulation or inflammation, it can wreak havoc in many other areas of the body, as well as cause or exacerbate other diseases.
Collateral damage from autoimmune diseases like IBD can include:
Hormones (thyroid, adrenal, sex hormones, many others)
Oxidative stress (inflammation creates oxidative stress, which also creates inflammation!)
Nutrient insufficiencies (common nutrients include iron, B12, folic acid, magnesium, and vitamin D).
Energy (a combination of all of the above)
The nervous system. This is complex, but chronic inflammation and stress can ‘wire’ the nervous system in ways that are not healthy for us (think poor sleep, anxiety, depression).
Fully healing from any chronic illness, including IBD, involves not just trying to squelch inflammation, but seeking to address why the body was triggered to be inflamed, as well as healing the damage that has been caused.