Lifestyle and home remedies

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Sometimes you may feel helpless when facing inflammatory bowel disease. But changes in your diet and lifestyle may help control your symptoms and lengthen the time between flare-ups.

Diet

There's no firm evidence that what you eat causes inflammatory bowel disease. But certain foods and beverages can aggravate your symptoms, especially during a flare-up. It's a good idea to try eliminating from your diet anything that seems to make your signs and symptoms worse. Here are some suggestions:

  • Limit dairy products. If milk or other dairy products aggravate your symptoms, you may be lactose intolerant — that is, your body can't digest the milk sugar (lactose) in dairy foods. If so, you may want to try an enzyme product, such as Lactaid, to help break down lactose. In some cases, you may need to eliminate dairy foods completely. Keep in mind that with limiting your dairy intake, you'll need to find other sources of calcium, such as supplements.
  • Experiment with fiber. For most people, high-fiber foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, are the foundation of a healthy diet. But if you have inflammatory bowel disease, fiber may make diarrhea, pain and gas worse. If raw fruits and vegetables bother you, try steaming, baking or stewing them. Check with your doctor before adding significant amounts of fiber to your diet.
  • Avoid problem foods. Eliminate any other foods that seem to make your symptoms worse. These may include "gassy" foods, such as beans, cabbage and broccoli, raw fruit juices and fruits, popcorn, caffeine, and carbonated beverages.
  • Eat small meals. You may find that you feel better eating five or six small meals rather than two or three larger ones.
  • Drink plenty of liquids. Try to drink plenty of fluids daily. Water is best. Beverages that contain caffeine stimulate your intestines and can make diarrhea worse, while carbonated drinks frequently produce gas.
  • Consider multivitamins. Because inflammatory bowel disease can interfere with your ability to absorb nutrients and because your diet may be limited, vitamin and mineral supplements can play a key role in supplying missing nutrients. They don't provide essential protein and calories, however, and shouldn't be a substitute for meals.
  • Talk to a dietitian. If you begin to lose weight or your diet has become very limited, talk to a registered dietitian.

Smoking

Smoking increases your risk of developing Crohn's disease, and once you have it, smoking can make the condition worse. People with Crohn's disease who smoke are more likely to have relapses, need medications and repeat surgeries. Quitting smoking can improve the overall health of your digestive tract, as well as provide many other health benefits.

Stress

Although stress doesn't cause inflammatory bowel disease, it can make your signs and symptoms much worse and may trigger flare-ups. Stressful events can range from minor annoyances to a move, job loss or the death of a loved one.

When you're stressed, your normal digestive process can change, causing your stomach to empty more slowly and secrete more acids. Stress can also speed or slow the passage of intestinal contents. It may also cause changes in intestinal tissue itself.

Although it's not always possible to avoid stress, you can learn ways to help manage it. Some of these include:

  • Exercise. Even mild exercise can help reduce stress, relieve depression and normalize bowel function. Talk to your doctor about an exercise plan that's right for you.
  • Biofeedback. This stress-reduction technique helps you reduce muscle tension and slow your heart rate with the help of a feedback machine. You're then taught how to produce these changes yourself. The goal is to help you enter a relaxed state so that you can cope more easily with stress. Biofeedback is usually taught in hospitals and medical centers.
  • Regular relaxation and breathing exercises. An effective way to cope with stress is to perform relaxation and breathing exercises. You can take classes in yoga and meditation or practice at home using books, CDs or DVDs.
  • Hypnosis. Hypnosis may reduce abdominal pain and bloating. A trained professional can teach you how to enter a relaxed state.
  • Other techniques. Set aside time every day for any activity you find relaxing — listening to music, reading, playing computer games or just soaking in a warm bath.
Dec. 13, 2012