Doctors turning to nontraditional way to treat Crohn's Disease

Imagine not being able to eat a meal ever. That's life for people with Crohn's Disease, a chronic condition that attacks the body's digestive tract. Now, some folks are turning away from traditional medicine to keep the disease in check. It's a drug-free solution that's not easy.

"I've been practicing for four years,” Steve Smarduch said.

For Steve Smarduch, it's all about discipline. And this is what's on the menu for every single meal, seven days a week.

He's got Crohn's Disease, an inflammation of the digestive tract. Half-a-million others in the US have it, too. Meals were followed by stomach pains and vomiting. He was taking standard steroidal treatment, until his mom got worried.

"All those drugs that are used for Crohn's disease have very bad, very bad side effects,” Steve’s Mom Svetlana said.

She found a treatment used across Europe called eternal nutrition. This milk-shake is kind of like a nutritional energy drink, and it put Steve’s disease in remission.

"It's safer than most other modes of treatment we have available,” Pediatric gastroenterolist Dr. Randolph McConnie from Rush University Medical Center said.

Steroids work, but they can boost the chances of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and infections. A European study found this liquid diet is just as effective as steroids, and has no side effects. But it can cost more than $200 a week, and sticking with it is no treat.

"There's an issue of taste, there's an issue of how the patient tolerates the formula,” Dr. McConnie said.

"It's working out for me pretty good. I drink it I get the calories and proteins and I'm all set,” Steve said.

Steve's wants to add solid food soon. But he'll stick to his routine as long it makes him feel better.

Doctors say patients typically stay on a strict liquid diet for six to eight weeks. Then slowly introduce food back into their diet. The formula needs to be bought online or through a pharmacy.


BACKGROUND: Crohn's disease is a chronic ongoing disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive or gastrointestinal tract. Although it can involve any area of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus, it most commonly affects the small intestine or colon. The disease can affect people of all age groups but the most popular age group diagnosed is young adults. Common symptoms are pain in the abdomen and diarrhea. Bleeding from the rectum, weight loss, joint pain, skin problems and fever may also occur. (SOURCE: Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA))

LIFE WITH CROHN'S DISEASE: A diagnosis of Crohn's disease can mean different things to different people. If symptoms are severe, then it may mean certain lifestyle adjustments but if symptoms are mild, then certain changes to diet, along with proper treatment may be the best way to cope with the disease. The key to living life the way you want is to develop your own guidelines for health and wellness. Following your gastroenterologist's advice, taking medicines as scheduled, and keeping your gastroenterologist's appointments are the first steps toward staying healthy. Treatment may include medicines, nutrition supplements, surgery or a combination of these options. Some people have long periods of remission, when they are free of symptoms. (SOURCE: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2010)

LIQUID DIET: Normal digestion occurs when food is broken down in the stomach and then absorbed in the bowel. These absorbed products are then carried by the blood to all parts of the body. Sometimes a person who has Crohn's cannot eat any or enough food to keep their body full of nutrients. Enteral Nutrition is an alternative supplement for food and is the first choice for children in Canada and European countries suffering from Crohn's. It has also been an official treatment for Crohn's disease in the United States as well since 1960. The liquid is similar to nutritional energy drinks like Ensure or Boost. Like any other medicine, it does not work for every patient but when it does it can: induce remission, in some patients, in as little as two weeks, can restore normal growth in kids who have stopped growing because of the disease and promote healing in diseases area of the intestinal track. Studies found that this diet has fewer side effects than steroids. Enteral Nutrition must be given for six to eight weeks in order to induce remission and to maintain remission. The treatment must be continued for years. It's typically not covered by insurance and more research is needed because the mechanism by which Enteral Nutrition induces clinical remission in Crohn's disease still remains unclear.

For More Information, Contact:
Sharon Butler
Rush University Medical Center
Physician Referral Line
(888) 352-RUSH

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