Digestive disorders, which reportedly are on the rise, can leave the young and old suffering from devastating symptoms, including severe pain, diarrhea and weight loss.
Medication helps but in the long term can be toxic and risky. Many people swear by alternative treatments. But do they really work? An attempt to answer that question is underway.
Whether it's the chanting, the breathing or the stretching, yoga exercises the body and mind. But it also seems to have therapeutic power.
Doctor Marilyn Mitchell not only prescribes yoga, she's an avid participant. She says the poses and focused breathing can help lessen the symptoms of chronic digestive disorders.
"It really helps quiet the nervous system and gives new messages to the body, to the cells about how to work," Mitchell said.
That's one theory. And the end result seems to be less stress. Some patients swear by it. But mainstream doctors want scientific proof.
Enter Rush University Medical Center. It wants to know if mind body techniques really impact symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
"A variety of research surveys show that about 30-50 percent of our patients are using these therapies. And when you look at the medical literature, there is really very little information, if any, on any of these therapies," said Dr. Ece Mutlu, gastroenterologist, Rush.
For patients with inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, lessening stress seems to have a connection to symptom flare ups.
"If we could manipulate stress and make people more aware of it we could improve their own health without having to do a whole lot of additional medications or therapy," said Mutlu.
Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the two main types of bowel disease. What happens is, the immune system goes haywire attacking parts of the intestines. Anti-inflammatories and medication to suppress the immune system work but over time can create health risks. That's why there's an urgent need to find safer treatments.
Twnety-five-year-old Andrea Meyer says she's proof that a gentler approach can work. She's been on several drugs and even had surgery to remove part of her colon. Meyer was happy to be part of another study at Rush, looking at the role diet might play in calming Crohn's.
"I'll force myself to either grab fruit instead of potato chips or clear soda instead of Dr. Pepper you know little changes," said Meyer.
There are still a lot of questions about the role diet plays in IBD, but eliminating high fat items, red meat or processed foods seems to make a difference. The study is also testing something called prebiotics - supplements thought to support the good bacteria in the body.
"We take samples before and after therapy to see if we can change the microenvironment in the intestine to stop the immune system from attacking the intestines," said Mutlu.
Meyer says so far, a healthier diet and exercise seem to be doing the trick.
"I felt better even in my head 'cause I hate being on medication," she said.
Researchers don't want to give away too many details because they want the research to be as unbiased as possible. Both studies, which are being funded by the National Institutes of Health still need participants.
Rush University Medical Center
Dr. Ece Mutlu
Crohn's Disease Dietary Study
Ulcerative Colitis Study
CROHN'S & COLITIS
Foundation of America
Dr. Marilyn Mitchell
355 W. Northwest Hwy.
Palatine, Il 60067
814 E. Woodfield Rd.
Schaumburg, Il 60173