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February 20, 2010 at 1:21 PMComments: 1 Faves: 0

How Does Crohn's Disease Affect the Immune System?

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What Is Crohn's Disease?

Crohn's disease is a condition characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The inflammation can occur anywhere from the mouth to anus, although the end of the small intestines and colon are the areas most commonly affected. Symptoms will differ depending on what part of the GI tract is affected, but they include: diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and bleeding from the rectum. In some people, other organs such as the joints and eyes are also affected. Most people are usually between fifteen and thirty-five years when they develop the disease, although children and geriatrics can have Crohn's disease. Men and women are affected equally often.

The Role of Genetics

Genetics seem to play an important part in the etiology of the disease. If you have a sibling with Crohn's disease, you are thirty times more likely to develop it, as well.

Genetic research has identified several of the genes involved in hereditary Crohn's disease. One of these genes is involved in helping the immune system recognize harmful bacteria. Many patients with Crohn's disease have a mutation in this gene, which makes it less effective. People with Crohn's disease also have mutations in several other genes that mediate the inflammatory response. So far, all the genes linked to Crohn's disease are related to the immune response.

How Is the Immune System Involved in Crohn's Disease?

The inflammation of the GI tract is caused by a prolonged immune response. Some scientist believe that a triggering event, such as an infection, causes the immune system to become confused and to identify such things as food or bacteria commonly found in the intestines as invaders. The immune system ramps up, and excess white blood cells in the intestinal walls cause inflammation. Some of the byproducts of white blood cell activity can be quite harmful to the body, and these substances can cause ulcerations.

Treatments

Crohn's disease has traditionally been treated with immune suppressants and modulators. Since the immune system is causing the damage, weakening it will keep further damage from occurring. Indeed, these treatments have proven useful in many patients. Unfortunately, these drugs have many side effects, and a weakened immune system leaves you open to opportunistic infections.

Exciting new research, however, indicates that there may be another, better way to treat Crohn's disease. One group of scientists realized that people with a certain type of genetic immune deficiency often have symptoms similar to those found in people with Crohn's disease. These people are successfully treated with drugs that boost their immune system. Given the similarity in symptoms, the researchers decided to give people with Crohn's disease immune enhancers in the hope that they would be beneficial to them too. Eighty percent of the patients improved dramatically. Fifty percent were technically in clinical remission. Unfortunately, continued use of the drugs was required to sustain the effect. Nevertheless, these results are truly remarkable and provide hope for the future of effectively treating Crohn's disease.

Sources:

http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/crohns

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health

http://www.ccfa.org/info/about/crohns

http://www.medicinenet.com/crohns_disease/article.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

http://www.webmd.com/ibd-crohns-disease-topic-overview

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1 Comment

  • Hello Gerald,

    It is true that many in the health care field are quick to turn to drugs when it comes to diseases and symptoms. It is also true that Crohn’s symptoms can be somewhat controlled through lifestyle habits.

    While there does seem to be some linking between Crohn’s disease and yeast overgrowth, there is nothing easily found that directly connects the two. It is important to note, however, that both affect the digestive system, and so certain treatments may be the same.

    We cannot guarantee any sort of cure of course, but symptoms of Crohn’s and Candida may be calmed with diet and lifestyle changes:

    -Monitor what you eat, and try to pinpoint which foods cause discomfort.
    -Know that foods such as milk, cheese, alcohol, caffeine, and those high in fat and sugar can aggravate symptoms.
    -Drink plenty of fluids, and consider adding more fiber to your diet. Fiber can initially cause some discomfort, but is ultimately an important part of good digestive health.
    -Experiment with probiotics, which balance the natural bacteria in your gut. Yogurt is a great way to get some of this bacteria. Probiotics can also be purchased in supplement form.

    Medication is sometimes a viable option for Crohn’s treatment, but know that your options do go beyond the strictly synthetic methods.

    All the best!

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