Treating Crohn’s disease is a tricky thing since one approach does not fit all. For some people, just taking medications is enough. Others may rely more on holistic or complementary approaches. Personally, I feel my best with a combination of both.
It wasn’t easy to reach this point. For several years, I only took whatever my gastroenterologist prescribed me. I did well with a cocktail of medicine for a while, but then I would start feeling sick again, had to change medications, and the cycle continued. My health worsened. I was exhausted all the time, experienced extreme stomach pain, and my tolerance for food was lessening. It was difficult to deal with, and I felt like I wasn’t even living.
I hated feeling so isolated and out of control, so I did some research on holistic approaches. I started modifying my diet by going gluten free. I felt a bit of relief, so I knew there was something to this. I went to a dietitian, who suggested a monthlong elimination diet where I stopped eating certain foods for a while, and then reintroduced them one at a time to see if they had an effect on my symptoms.
I found out I was sensitive to gluten, wheat, corn, and dairy. I love all of these foods, so it was tough to give them up. But it was more important to me to get some of my life back, so I made the sacrifice. Once again, I felt the tiniest bit of relief, but still had an immense amount of stomach pain and fatigue.
I was in my mid-20s at this point and so frustrated. All the work I was putting into changing my diet wasn’t helping, and I was terrified by the idea of suffering for the next 60-70 years. I continued researching holistic practices that worked for other people with IBD and decided to try acupuncture, as it seemed to be the most effective with the least side effects.
I found a Chinese medicine doctor who not only did acupuncture, but also used herbs and provided dietary guidelines. I must emphasize that it’s extremely important to conduct background research on practitioners’ credentials and success history. Some practices, like herbal medicine, can be dangerous. The person I chose was licensed by the state to practice traditional Chinese medicine, had a lot of knowledge about IBD, and was honest and open about what to expect from her treatments.
During the first appointment after I shared my health history, the practitioner performed acupuncture. It didn’t hurt, but it felt weird just lying still for an hour with a bunch of needles all over my body. The next day, all the pain I’ve experienced for years was completely gone! That’s when I knew this was the right path to take.
The acupuncturist also told me to go on a limited diet of just meat, seafood, eggs, and cooked produce until my health improved. It was difficult at first and involved a lot of tears in the kitchen. Nevertheless, I continued to feel better and did activities such as weightlifting, traveling, and walked a half marathon for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation in Ireland.
I had a flare after a few months, and being between jobs left me without insurance. I became extremely sick as I couldn’t afford medications, and no amount of acupuncture, herbs, and diet could get me out of it. It took a long time to recover, but with a combination of both Western and Chinese medicine, I’ve been in remission for almost 2 years.
I still have difficult days, but I take fewer medications and do acupuncture for maintenance. I spend more time doing the things I love with my friends and family. I am grateful for all of the approaches that have given me a second chance at life.