Is Crohn's Affecting Your Appearance?

Although Crohn's disease affects the intestines, it can also change one's outer appearance. While some common symptoms of Crohn's disease include abdominal fullness and gas, constipation, fistulas (usually around the rectal area), ulcers (most often in the lower part of the small intestine, the large intestine or the rectum), gastrointestinal bleeding and kidney stones, people with Crohn's disease are also at risk for problems such as malnutrition. This is because their intestines can't absorb all the nutrients they get from food. All the inner turmoil can also result in a poor appetite, weight loss, and fatigue. Crohn's disease is also associated with other medical conditions, including arthritis, eye infections, skin rashes and gum and mouth problems, including mouth ulcers, dental cavities and periodontal disease.

Although the exact cause of Crohn's disease is unknown, it's been linked to a faulty immune system response triggered by bacteria or a virus; genetics; and a diet high in saturated fat and processed foods. Risk factors include:

  • Being of Jewish heritage
  • Being of European (especially Scandinavian) ancestry
  • Having a family history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Eating a diet high in sugar and saturated fat and low in fruit and vegetables

Finding Relief 

While there is no cure for Crohn's disease, there are several treatments available to provide relief from its symptoms, including medication, nutritional supplements, surgery (in severe cases), exercise to prevent stress and depression that often accompany Crohn's disease and quitting smoking. Talk to your doctor about what would be the most effective treatment for you based on the severity of your symptoms. Some studies suggest that maintaining a certain diet may ease symptoms and also reduce disease recurrences. For example:

  • Eating a diet high in fruits, including antioxidant fruits like blueberries, cherries and tomatoes, and vegetables, such as squash and bell peppers
  • Avoiding foods high in fat and sugar; dairy products; and spicy foods
  • Eating foods high in B-vitamins, calcium and magnesium, such as whole grains (providing fiber isn't a problem for you) and dark leafy greens like spinach and kale
  • Avoiding refined foods like white breads and pastas; caffeine, alcohol and tobacco

Also, eating five or six small meals a day instead of three big meals may also help reduce disease symptoms.