Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is subdivided into ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and typically first appears between the ages of 15 and 30. Whereas ulcerative colitis is more distal, affecting the rectum and spreading upwards toward the descending and transverse colon in an uninterrupted fashion, Crohn’s disease typically involves the ileum and colon and can affect any part of the digestive tract, often in a discontinuous pattern characterized by skip lesions.
Due to this disparity, Crohn’s disease can ulcerate through the layers of the bowel into the mesentery, leading to complications such fibrosis or scarring of tissue that leads to strictures or perforations, as well as intestinal granulomas and fistulas . Fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and weight loss are hallmark symptoms. Cesarean section delivery, smoking, early life antibiotic use, low fiber intake, and use of oral contraceptives and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are all correlated with risk of Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s and colitis have different clinical features, but both exhibit a relapsing and remitting course, and both represent autoimmune pathologies of the gut. Because the disease etiology is autoimmune in nature, people with IBD are at increased risk for other autoimmune disorders including psoriasis, ankylosing spondylitis, and primary sclerosing cholangitis. Τhere are evidence-based natural substances that can be used as adjunctive therapies alongside a holistic regimen that includes an anti-inflammatory diet, stress management, social support, physical activity, and sleep hygiene.
Enter Mastica Gastrointestinal Benefactor
Whereas ulcerative colitis can be corrected by surgery in severe cases, Crohn’s disease usually cannot—and there is no cure. It can, however, be treated with powerful drugs, including sulfa drugs, corticosteroids, other anti-inflammatories, and antibiotics. Not surprisingly, most of these drugs have adverse side effects that can make their use decidedly unpleasant even as they help alleviate the misery of Crohn’s disease. Thus there is an incentive to find nutritional supplements that can help Crohn’s victims without causing significant side effects.
An evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean called Pistacia lentiscus var. Chia (Anacardiaceae), also known as Chios mastic gum, has been revered for its therapeutic effects in the liver, stomach, and intestines since ancient Greek and Roman times. Oleanolic acid, a triterpene within mastic gum, exerts anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects and prevents chemical-induced hepatotoxicity in animal models. Mastic gum additionally possesses antiatherogenic, antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-ulcer effects.
In a four week pilot study of patients with mild to moderately active Crohn’s disease, patients received six capsules a day of mastic gum, with each capsule containing 0.37 grams. Compared to baseline, Crohn’s Disease Activity Index (CDAI) was significantly decreased post-treatment alongside significant increases in total antioxidant potential (TAP), presumably due to the triterpene and phenolic compounds contained in mastic gum. Increases in TAP result in improved capacity to neutralize the oxidative stress and inflammation that promote Crohn’s disease pathogenesis.
Likewise, post-treatment, patients exhibited significant decreases in interleukin-6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory intercellular signaling molecule that recruits other immune cells, and plays “a pivotal role in induction and amplification of the inflammatory cascade”. IL-6 similarly incites production of inflammatory acute phase reactants from the liver, and promotes differentiation and proliferation of T cells and B cells, lymphocytes which perpetuate the disease process.
C-reactive protein (CRP), an acute phase reactant that is a surrogate marker for systemic inflammation, was also significantly decreased after mastic gum treatment. A trend towards decreases in monocyte chemotactic protein 1 (MCP-1), a chemical messenger which incites macrophages, a subset of immune cells, to migrate to the site of inflammation and infiltrate tissue, was also observed in Crohn’s patients after the trial. Lastly, there was a pattern towards improvement in the Nutritional Risk Index (NRI) in Crohn’s patients after the mastic gum intervention, mainly due to body weight gain . Researchers attribute this to a decrease in liquid stool frequency due to mastic gum supplementation, which resulted in better nutrient absorption.
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