Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ying and the Yang: Western v. Eastern Medicine

Today, I finished my month-long supply of Flagyl.  This is an antibiotic used mostly to treat intestinal or vaginal infections.  Since I don't have a vagina, the drug was used to treat my colon.  But not for a bacterial infection, however.

My surgeon prescribed it for me when I was having issues with external inflammation and pain.  Here's the thing about Western doctors:  they don't like not-knowing why things happen the way they do.  I asked him why I was getting an antibiotic to treat inflammation.

"We have found that Flagyl helps with anal Crohn's inflammation," he said.  I think he was expecting it to end there.  Obviously, he doesn't know me very well.  I like to know why.

"Why is that?"  I asked.

He paused a moment, thinking of what to say.  "We don't know," he finally replied.  Western doctors don't like not knowing and I think they feel a little bit inadequate when forced to make that admission.  They feel like they should know.  After all, they spent a great deal of money becoming doctors and we expect them to have all the answers.  In the West, we spend a great deal of time trying to determine the causes of ailments.  And since there is no determined cause for Crohn's, a lot of it is trial and error.  And that doesn't sit well with most doctors.

Now, contrast this with my Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor.    A couple of months ago, Dr. X began prescribing for me various herbs to treat my Crohn's.  One of the herbs is honeysuckle.   Honeysuckle has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years.  It is a natural anti-inflammatory.  I asked Dr. X what it was about honeysuckle and Crohn's.

His response:  "I don't know."   Okay.  Not too different from my Western doctor.  But he didn't stop there.

"And, to be honest with you Bruce, I don't care.  All I know is that it works."

I was a little surprised by his candor.  "These herbs have been used for thousands of years.  I don't know why they work. And it really doesn't matter, does it?"

"I guess not," I replied timidly.

Dr. Zhengang Guo
Dr. X studied herbs under Zhengang Guo, who grew up in China and learned herbal medicine from his father.  After studying Western medicine and oncology, he came to the United States in 1981.  A few years later, he began teaching a class in Traditional Chinese Medicine at the University of Illinois, the first class of its kind in the city.  One of his students:  my very own Dr. X.  

"I'm not an herbologist," he continued. "I am not even sure of all of the herbs in the various formulas I prescribe.  I'd have to look at the labels." 

Okay, this was a little bit too much candor for my taste.  It was one thing not to know why things happen the way they do, but to revel in it went against every academic fiber in my being.

"Look, you didn't come to me to find out why Crohn's happens. I have no idea," he said.  "You came to me to feel better.  And that's what Traditional Chinese Medicine focuses on:  not the cause, but but the symptoms.  I know what works.  Why it works?"  He then shrugged his shoulders.  "It really doesn't matter."

So there it is:  the ying and the yang.   The Western doctors forever searching for a cause; the Eastern doctors using the time-honored technique of "whatever works."

Still, I have one less pill in my system now.  Soon, I'll be done with the prednisone as well.  By next week the only medicine coursing through my veins will be Dr. X's herbs (plus the probiotics and vitamins I am taking). 

And then we will truly see if "whatever works" really has some truth to it. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

BSI: Bowel Scene Investigation

The subject was a 43-year old male with Crohn's disease.  A "Crohnie," they call him.  After a particularly good week, he entered a favorite Mexican establishment by the name of Chipotle.  He ordered a burrito bowl:  rice, beans, chicken, a little salsa and guacamole, but no cheese or sour cream.  Nothing big.  He had eaten that the week before with no reactions.  However, this time the meal had a decidedly stronger kick.  And, instead of merely drinking water as was his usual, the Crohnie decided to wash the meal down with a diet Coke.  Coke Zero, actually.  Usually, he tolerates such an extravagance.  However, before he left, he refilled the cup and downed another 16 ounces or so of the carbonated, caffeinated beverage.  About five hours later he was found on the toilet.  His stools were loose.  Real loose.  Telltale signs of undigested food filled the bowl.  The Crohnie had pushed too far.   And now he was paying the price.  But what was the cause?  It was time for a BSI.

Bowel Scene Investigation.  Before coming down with Crohn's, I rarely thought about or paid any attention to my daily (or sometimes, every other day) trip to the throne room.  I can't remember a time before Crohn's when I actually took a close look into the bowl to examine what recently came out of my body.  In-out was my philosophy. I was never one of those guys to sit for a long time on the toilet.  Unlike some people I know, it was not my preferred reading spot.  There was this guy in college who lived in my apartment complex junior year.  He would sit for an hour or so on the toilet, reading a magazine.  He liked to not only keep the door to the bathroom open, but also the door to the apartment open so that he could see what was going on in the courtyard.  Consequently, everyone could see him as well.  He liked to smile and wave at people when they made eye-contact.  That was never me.

Bowel examination is a very important component of the lifestyle of a Crohn's patient.  In fact, doctors say that it should be something that everyone does as the stool can give one clues about general health. But, again, this is not something that most people do.  There is a taboo-like stigma we place on the process of moving our bowels.   In fact, just saying "bowel movement" sanitizes the whole process.  It's not like we are actually moving our bowels.  Let's face it: we're excreting feces.  It's an excretion process that occurs after your body has absorbed the nutrients from the food.  But it is a process that's essential to our well-being.  It is essential to our survival.  The process itself is very complex and when things aren't going right you know it.  All you have to do is look in the bowl.

The day I ate Chipotle, I had a feeling something was going to happen.  I started having loose stools and more gas by the afternoon.  The previous day, I had only made one trip to the bathroom.  Not that day; I had already gone three times as much.  In the bowl, I saw chunks of tomato.  This would suggest the salsa I had on my burrito bowl.  However, I also had spaghetti the night before and there were chunks of tomato in that meal as well.  The question: was the tomato from lunch or the dinner from the previous night? 

According to the Mayo Clinic, the process of digestion can take several days.  The food moves through the stomach after a couple of hours, then into the small intestine.  That takes a total of six hours or so to complete.  Then the journey through the large intestine usually concludes after a twenty-four hour period.

In Crohn's patients, this process is faster.  The food moves, sometimes in its undigested state, from the body to the bowl in a matter of hours.  This can be due to a flare-up or some other reaction to the food in question.  Caffeine can also contribute to the quick bowel and the loose stools as well.

The only way to determine the cause is to examine the stool.  Sometimes you have to get down on all fours and look directly into that bowel.  Don't think of it as a toilet but a window to you body.  The closest most people come to this is probably when they are about to vomit.  Not for a Crohn's patient.

Bowl examination becomes an art form for a Crohn's patient.  We've learned how to take toilet paper and swirl it in the water to move the particles around.  If needed, we can even pick pieces out of the water with the toilet paper in order to get a closer look.  And not once get our hands dirty.
What I was seeing was definitely tomato. But it was difficult to tell if it was from the salsa or the spaghetti sauce.   I swirled the water a bit and thought for a moment what my family would think if they barged in at that time.  I could just hear my son, "Dad, are you playing with your poo?"

And then I saw it:  a small green leaf.  It was cilantro.  What I was looking at was the meal that I had just five hours earlier. 

But what was it that was causing this reaction?  After all, I had had this same meal last week with no problems whatsoever.  Except this time around I had the Coke Zero.  And the salsa seemed to be a bit on the "hot" side this time around.

It was probably one of those things or a combination of both; spice and caffeine.  The bane of a Crohnie. 

Caffeine has always been a trigger for me, but I can usually have a little bit before it affects my digestive system.  Over the last several weeks, I have almost completely given up caffeine, except for the occasional half-decaf coffee I treat myself to on weekends.  At Chipotle, I think I pushed the caffeine too far.  One soda probably would have been fine.  But two pushed me over the line.

Stool examination can be an important diagnostic tool for anyone, not just Crohnies.  Even Dr. Oz recommends it.  "At the end of the day," he says, "you can analyze your body really effectively by looking at what comes out of your body."  In 1997, doctors at the University of Bristol developed a scale to help diagnosis problems in the colon by looking at the stool.  It is called the "Bristol Stool Scale."  There are even apps available to track your movements.  Ah, technology.

Next time I go to Chipotle, I will drink only water and see if I have the same reaction to the food.  I doubt I will.

If there is a reaction, I know just what to do.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Ling Long, or are you just happy to see me?

For the longest time, I believed that Crohn's disease was an infliction found only in the colon and small intestine.  Then, I started a regimen of Entocort and learned a painful lesson:  Crohn's can manifest itself anywhere in the digestive system, from the entrance to the exit, both external and internal.  Yes, you can even get Crohn's in your mouth.  Rare, but it can happen.

Last Fall, I began a regimen of Entocort.  This seemed the natural step, as I respond very well to prednisone and Entocort is mainly a steroid released directed into the colon.

However, shortly after taking Entocort, I began experiencing external pain, swelling and bleeding in my lower nether-regions.  One of the side effects, apparently, of Entocort is hemorrhoids.  I stopped the Entocort for a couple of months and my external symptoms went away.  My doctor, unsure if the inflammation was the result of the flare-up or the Entocort suggested that I go back on the Entocort now that the prednisone reduced the swelling.  So I did.  And the problem came back and got worse.  Much worse.

It wasn't hemorrhoids that I was experiencing.  It was severe external Crohn's, complete with inflammation and "Crohn's tags."  Crohn's tags are basically skin tags caused by Crohn's that appear in and around the rectal region.  Nice, eh.  The pain was extreme.  There was bleeding and infection.  During a surgical procedure to determine the problem, my surgeon ended up removing one of the skin tags, but the problem did not go away.  More skin tags appeared.

Back on the prednisone I went.  Several warm baths a day.  Antibiotics, also.

And then I started seeing my Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor.  He, of course, began prescribing herbs for the inflammation.  Honeysuckle, an herb shown to reduce inflammation, was one of them.   As I write these words, I am sipping Honeysuckle Flower Tea.  Quite frankly, it tastes like lawn.  I might as well be out in the front yard licking the grass.  But, over the last few weeks, the inflammation is about gone.  My bowel movements are down to an average of one a day.  And I feel better.  Thank you, Honeysuckle.  You may taste like shit, but if you work then I will continue to gulp you down.

One of the things that Dr. X gave me was a Chinese ointment.  Although it is for hemmoroids, Dr. X said it would help reduce the inflammation from the Crohn's.  Use it, he said.

When I opened up the bag and saw the box, I laughed.  Ma Ying Long.  You've got to be kidding, I said to myself.  This sounds like a joke out of a John Hughes' film.  Ma Ying Long.  I showed my wife and she laughed outloud, too.  How can I take this seriously?

Most of the instructions are in Chinese, but the ingredients are written in English on the box:  Synthetic Musk, Pearl, Bezoar, Calamine, Amber.  Inactive ingredients:  Vaseline, Lamoline.

Fair enough.  I wasn't quite sure what some of those ingredients were.  Pearl?  The thing found in oysters that people turn into jewelry?  This is going to relieve my Crohn's? And what the hell is "bezoar?"

The first thing I noticed was the smell.  Yes, there was musk in this stuff.  Lots of it.  In fact, it was almost overbearing, the smell of musk.  However, I used it anyway.  After all, I wasn't spending time out in the woods so I didn't have to worry about attracting some animal looking for a mate.

The smell was so much, I ended up only using it at night.  I didn't want to draw attention to myself at work, especially since I spend my day around teenagers  They have amazing olfactory senses. And the last thing I wanted was to be called out by hormone-induced students.  "What is that smell?"  I could hear them ask, wrinkling their little judgmental faces.

The ointment is interesting.  It produces a cooling sensation which goes to the core of Chinese medicinal philosophy:  Crohn's is caused by "heat" in the colon.  But, it seemed to work, I think.  Even with the few times that I ended up using it, it didn't make things worse, that's for sure.  Dr. X thinks I should continue to use it a couple of times a week as a preventative measure. 

So, I decided to do some research on the stuff.  It is made by a company in China that has been around since 1582.  But I wasn't sure about some of the ingredients.  What the hell is bezoar?

Some things are better left not knowing, I imagine.  And many people live their lives like this:  "Don't tell me if it is something I don't want to know."  I am not one of these people.  And in the age of the internet, most things can be uncovered with a click of a few buttons.  And here it is:

Bezoar is basically a hairball.  It is a mass of swallowed fiber found in the stomachs or intestinal tracts of certain animals.  It has been used for centuries in traditional medicine and in ancient times as an antidote to poison.   In fact, Harry Potter learns about bezoars in his first year in Potions class and uses one to save Ron Weasley in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.    In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the bezoars come mainly from ox and cattle.  It can also be made synthetically.  How this is done, I have no idea.

And bezoar is in my My Ling Long.  This may gross some people out, but Crohn's patients are rarely grossed out.  The things we go through have numbed the "gross-out" portion of our brains and few things, if anything, can turn our stomachs anymore.  If I ever find something that actually grosses me out, I'll be sure to let you know.

Upon further research, I have discovered that this My Ling Long ointment has quite a following.  Almost, cult-like, I must say.  Just go over to and read the comments:

"This product is INCREDIBLE! Finally Something that works!"

"Like a popsicle up my bum."

"Those Chinese really know their hemorrhoids, I'd like to thank them from the bottom of my bottom."

"I Can Live Again!"

"Do your butthole a favor and get this!!"

One commenter addressed the issue of smell and put it into perspective:

"Okay, I find all the reviews of this product that comment on smell to be amusing. You are applying it to your anus. It is not the best smelling part of any body. Pretty much, almost anything you put on it, smells better than its natural state. This stuff smells like mentholated patchouli incense... much better than a hemmoroidal poop chute."

Thanks J. Stern, "Professional Slacker" from Pittsburgh for your candor.

So this manifestation of Crohn's was a surprise. Just when you think you know everything about your infliction, someone comes to you with a new diagnosis.  Believe me, I was shocked when I awoke from my procedure and was told, "You have anal Crohn's."  And, with all of the problems that I have had with Crohn's over the years, this was by far the worst.

I just hope honeysuckle and My Ling Long does the the trick.  If not, I will have to look for something else.

Perhaps a potion?


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mistress Coffee

It's Saturday and it's a day I have allowed myself to cheat.

As a Crohn's patient, we know there are certain things that we shouldn't eat.  We become very in-tune with our system and know basically how much of a trigger food is needed before it causes a flare-up.

I have two never-fail trigger foods:  fries and coffee.

I can do without the fries.  I like them, of course.  Who doesn't?  But I don't need fries.  If I never have another fry in my life, I would be okay with that. 

Unfortunatley, I cannot say the same thing about coffee.

I don't know what it is about coffee and crohn's, but I assume its the caffeine.  I used to drink a lot of coffee.  Before Crohn's, there was a time in my early teaching career when I would drink basically a pot of coffee, ten cups of so, in a morning.  Then I started suffering from palpitations.  Then I cut down the coffee.

Lately, before the most recent flare-up last Fall, I was drinking about four cups a morning every day.  That was my limit.  Anything over that and I would find myself spending more time in the bathroom.  Then I started seeing my Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor and was told that coffee "adds heat" to the colon and should be avoided.  It's not only the caffeine, I was told.  Coffee in general is not good for the colon, according to the Chinese.  Drink tea instead, he told me.

But tea is not the same thing.  I don't mind tea but it doesn't have the aroma or the bite of coffee.  It doesn't open my eyes in the morning and remove the fog.

In fact, I have come to realize that coffee may be the greatest thing discovered by man.

Over the last couple of months, I have given up coffee, beer and wine---among other things.  If you would have asked me a couple of months ago which of those three I would miss the most, I would have said wine.  I like a nice glass of wine for dinner.  When my wife and I play scrabble like an old married couple, I like a glass of wine.  I like to sip wine by the fire out on the deck.

But now, I would say coffee.  I miss it in the morning.  I have tried coffee substitutes, but frankly they don't come close to coffee.  I can tolerate Teechino.  The "Mocha" blend is quite good, actually.  But it is not coffee.  It looks like coffee, it tastes vaguely like coffee.  But it does not smell like coffee.  At work, in the morning, everyone is walking around with coffee cups and the aroma is in every office you walk into. When I see a colleague walking down the hall with a Dunkin' Donuts cup, I want to knock him down and snatch it. 

So, instead of becoming someone who assaults others for what they have, I have decided to cheat.

I am feeling better, that is for sure.  How much can coffee hurt?  I know if I drink a lot of coffee, I will be feeling it.  Before the flare-up, if I had more than 4 cups I would notice the difference.  Now, I limit myself to two cups, just on the weekends.

Right now, as I type these words, my boys are in the other room watching Phineas and Ferb and I have the morning paper spread out in front of me.  The aroma of coffee is wafting through the kitchen.

Life is good.

The blend is 1/2 decaf.  So, I cut out a good portion of the caffeine, the main culprit.  And it works for me.  No difference in my system.  I don't dare go over this amount, however.  As I mentioned, we crohnies sure know our bodies.

So, I have become a cheater.  And my mistress is coffee.

Just please don't tell Dr. X.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Drinking Honeysuckle, Absinthe?

Pharmaceuticals scare the hell out of me.  Especially the variety that have "black box" warning labels, such as Humira.  Humira can cause tuberculosis and fatal fungal infections such as histoplasmosis. Of course, this is rather rare.  But, hey, I don't particularly want to be on the wrong end of a statistic.   This is probably the main reason why I am putting myself through this:
I am probably postponing the inevitable, perhaps.  I don't know.  I am feeling better using alternative treatments.  But a Crohn's patient knows that feeling better is fleeting, and conditions of well being can change at a moment's notice.  I am almost done with my prednisone and over the last two days I have noticed some more external inflammation and a slight pain.  Was the pain always there and I am just feeling it now?  Am I just more aware at the moment because anxiety is pushing me to fear the worst?  Was it something I ate?  Could it be the moon?  Who knows.

Today, I saw my Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor.  He tested some more food for me.  I did not have a reaction to potatoes, soy or bacon. (Thank God for that.  It's bad enough giving up milk.  But bacon?  I think not.)

I have been running low on my honeysuckle pills. I am supposed to take 12 of these pills a day.  So, I have been rationing the honeysuckle; taking a fraction each day just so that I could stretch it out until my appointment today.   I told him that I needed more honeysuckle and he noticed my hoarse voice.  I have a slight cold and the talking that I have been doing at work has made my voice worse.  But, I assured him, I was drinking tea and not coffee.  When I told him this, he said, "I am going to give you some honeysuckle tea.  If you are drinking tea, you might as well make it medicinal."

So now I have honeysuckle tea to drink.  But I was intrigued.  It's my nature to question.

"What does honeysuckle do?"  I asked.

The thing about Dr. X is that he's not very scientific.  He speaks in weird metaphors---metaphors that have been used, apparently, by the Chinese for hundreds of years.  "The honeysuckle cools down your burners," he said.

So it is as simple as that:  my burners are too hot.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the Chinese consider Crohn's to be caused by "too much heat" in the colon.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, everything is reduced to "hot" or "cold" or other elemental distinctions.

A friend of mine at work is currently getting acupuncture and herbal treatments as well, but in her case it is for sinus issues.  She, too, expresses a fascination with the treatments but also a confusion in regard to its scientific basis.  She compared it to that scene in Princess Bride when Westley was brought to Miracle Max for treatment to bring him back from being "mostly dead."  Herbs, tinctures and mysterious apparati bring the young man to life.  That is what it is like for those of us raised on Western medicine taking a leap into treatments that are explained with a mere "it cools down your burners."

Furthermore, when one looks up honeysuckle, they are plunged into this realm of borderline alchemy.  According to the Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine, honeysuckle "clears damp heat and removes toxins."  It also reportedly "helps those who are stuck in the past with memories or regrets."  Okay, have fun storming the castle.

But perhaps there is a scientific basis for this for all of this mysterious talk.  Herbs were the first medicine used by humans and the basis for most pharmaceutical drugs.  Many drugs that are patented by big industry start out by mimicking the property of herbs.

Honeysuckle has anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for hundreds of years to treat a variety of ailments, from arthritis to eczema.   It has antibacterial properties as well.  In one study, over 140 compounds were isolated in honeysuckle, many of which have numerous medicinal properties.

As I write these words, I am taking my nighttime dose of herbs---complete with a full dose of honeysuckle.  Tomorrow, at work, I will quietly sip my honeysuckle tea and let its anti-inflammatory properties work.

I have been reading much about herbs lately.  In researching honeysuckle today, for example, I came across another herb that is used to treat Crohn's:  wormwood.

Wormwood is an herb that can be found in absinthe.  Although absinthe was popular over 100 years ago, it became known as the "green fairy" and was consequently vilified for being not only addictive but also hallucinatory.   Much of this was sensationalized for temperance purposes.  However, in recent years, absinthe has made a comeback and now can be purchased in the United States after a decades-long ban.

Wormwood, the main herb found in absinthe, also has medicinal properties.  In fact, there have been several studies done using wormwood to treat Crohn's.  In 2007, a study of wormwood in Crohn's patients revealed that 90% of those treated with wormwood showed improved conditions with 65% going into full Crohn's remission. "These results strongly suggest that wormwood has a steroid sparing effect," concluded the authors.  In other words, wormwood works as good as steroids without the negative effects.  Wormwood was cited in a 2010 study as being just as effective as TNF blockers (such as Humira) in the the treatment of Crohn's.  Apparently, wormwood can naturally reduce the body's tendency to attack its own cells.

If that's the case, I can buy wormwood capsules at my local healthfood store for a fraction of the $30,000 Humira costs a year.

Or, I can just drink absinthe.  A lot of absinthe.  

Actually, I have been wanting to try absinthe for a long time...not for the wormwood, mind you, but for the novelty of drinking a green spirit and pretending to be a bohemian writer in fin de si├Ęcle Paris, just like Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge! 

But perhaps now I have another reason.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Sh*t Don't Stink: The Biology of a Bowel Movement

Yesterday, my wife and I had a date night.  Actually, it was a "date afternoon."  We saw a movie---the first one in a long time and went out to dinner to the Lucky Monk.  I can't remember the last time we had seen a movie, probably last November when we went out for Cheryl's birthday.  This felt good to get out, especially since I have been feeling better.  I ordered BBQ salmon but had to forgo the micro brew due to my taking of Flagyl.  We talked about the movie, the menu selection at the Lucky Monk and, of course, my colon. 

"Your poops sure don't stink as much," my wife told me.

You know you're a Crohn's patient when the topic of dinner conversation turns to bowel movements.  At a restaurant, no less.

And so we spent some time discussing the odoriferous particularities of my daily habits.

As I mentioned before, unless you have small kids, we adults--for the most part--go through life pretending that we don't have rectums.  We don't talk about it unless it is giving us trouble.  And most people find such talk at dinner to be inappropriate, at best (I sure hope the two guys sitting next to us, stuffing their faces with large burgers, didn't mind).

The fact is, our "daily habits" can tell us a lot about our overall health.   And odor is a big part of it.

The main ingredient in a good, healthy shit is water, actually.  Undigested food comes next, mostly fiber and seed.  The rest of it is living and dead bacteria and the bile and other fluids that helped breakdown that food in the process.  The breaking down of the materials produces a little methane gas. 1   That is the main source of the odor, plus the levels of bacteria in your colon.  Food choice can cause the levels of methane and bacteria to fluctuate, thus affecting the overall odor.  A healthy bowel movement does not stink as much as an "unhealthy movement."

According to a Patrick Donovan, a naturpath in Seattle,  "You're passing methane and bacterial, degraded foodstuffs, so there's always going to be an odor. But it shouldn't be a very strong, pungent odor." 2

And let me say: my movements the last couple of months have been horrendous in the odor department.  Usually, people tend to not notice as much their own particular odors; we're so used to it, I guess, that our brains no longer even recognize the extent to which we have stunk up the room.   But even I have noticed some of them.  From the second floor, no less.

Now that's some stinky feces.

Of course, that was when I had in infection.  Still, even before the infection, my Crohn's infused colon produced some mighty strong stink bombs.

But not as much anymore.

The question, yet again, is why?  It is well known that those people who consume milk tend to have stinkier poops.  In order to digest the lactose in milk, your body produces a protein called lactase. In fact, as we grow older we produce less lactase and therefore have a more difficult time digesting lactose.  Even if we are not "lactose intolerant,"  the more milk we drink, especially as we get older, tends to produce more mucous and foul-smelling movements.  Most of the world becomes lactose intolerant by the age of ten due to the ceasing of the body's ability to produce lactase, except those in the United States and of northern European extraction where milk products are a large part of the diet.  Over 90% of people in China cannot drink milk in adulthood. 3
I have given up milk completely, so this could be one of the reasons for the lessening of odor.

Bacteria is also an important component of digestive health. In fact, you can not survive without the billions of bacteria living in your gut.  Some of that bacteria is bad.  In fact, you have billions of e. coli bacteria throughout your system.  However, the good bacteria keeps that bad in check.  It's like an epic war of bacteria going on in your stomach and intestines.  When the bad bacteria wins some of those battles, so to speak, the odor level of the poop and gas goes up.

I have been taking some probiotics to help keep that balance.  Each day I take L. acidophilus (the good stuff in yogurt) and Align, a proprietary beneficial bacteria called bifidobacterium infantis created in a lab by Proctor and Gamble.  My GI doctor recommended this a couple of years ago.  So, I take it.  However, it is a little expensive for a 30 day supply.  L. acidophilus can be found at any drugstore.

And let's not forget the herbs Dr. X, my doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, has given me.  What these have done...I have no idea.

The only thing my family has noticed, apparently, is that my shits are less stinky.

And less stinky is a good thing.


1.  This is the main reason why farts can be lit on fire.  There was a guy I knew in college who relished every opportunity to turn his ass into a flamethrower with a Bic lighter.  On one trip to Madison, Wisconsin, for a theater festival I was involved in, he spent the night shooting flames out his butt and consequently lit his underwear on fire.
2.  Martiga Lohn, "The Bowel Truth." Accessed March 11, 2012.
3.   "Got Lactase?" Understanding Evolution. University of California Museum of Paleontology. August 2007
Accessed March 11, 2012

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Is it the Herbs? Or what?

So, here it is: 5:30 in the morning. I have just finished my breakfast and am waiting.

Waiting to go.

You see, I haven't gone in well over a day.  That's right.  For the first time in...well, as long as I can remember, I haven't had to go.  And if you're having problems reading between the lines here, I haven't made a doodie in approximately 40 hours.  This hasn't happened since before the Crohn's came along.

I have a pattern in the morning.  Of late, I usually went about twice before going to work. So yesterday, I hung around as long as I could so that I could take care of business here---after all, I have the bidet and the bathrooms at work are...well, let's just say they haven't been updated since the building was built in 1968.  And they don't have bidets.

I feel good for a change, actually.  Better than I have been in several months.  So why is this happening?  That is what I am having a problem wrapping my head around.

I am still taking the Chinese herbs.  41 herbal pills a day.

I am on 15 mg of prednisone.

9 mg of Flagyl.

Two types of probiotics:  acidiphillus and Align.

I have given up milk and dairy products.

I receive acupuncture a couple of times a week.

Is it any one of these things or a combination of them all?

I have been on prednisone on and off (and at larger doses) over the course of the last year.  And this hasn't really happened on the prednisone.  So, I don't think it is that.  Plus, I am on the lower end of the dose.  I started off at 40 mg.

Antibiotics such as Flagyl usually mess up the intestines and make the bowels move even more.  So, I don't think it is that.   However, my surgeon prescribed the Flagyl not for an infection but for inflammation.  He said that Flagyl reduces inflammation in the colon for some Crohn's patients.  But they don't know why.  Could this be the reason?

The acupuncture....I still don't get this.  But who knows?

The only other options:  the herbs, the dairy-free diet and the probiotics.

I have been taking the probiotics for a week, after going on the Flagyl.  This is the first time I have ever taken two.  Why?   I thought two different strains of beneficial bacteria is better than one.

So that leaves the dairy-free diet and the herbs.

It's been a couple of weeks now without dairy.  I have started using Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread in place of butter (and I love butter.  I could eat butter as is.), almond milk instead of regular milk and have checked the labels on products to make sure there is no milk or casein in the ingredients.  I even removed the cheese from the pizza I ate at my brother-in-law's house the other day.  That was hard. 

But I have given up milk before---maybe not this strict, but there was a time when I didn't have milk products.  And I never had results like this.

So it looks like the herbs may be what is making me feel better.

About five years ago, I controlled my Crohn's symptoms through the use of a high-fiber diet.  I ate about a cup of bran every morning.  For someone with Crohn's, the bran bulks up the stools and makes movements less frequent.  However, according to my gastroenterologist, the Crohn's was still there---and getting worse, actually.  The bran was just covering that up.  The last thing I want is to go into another colonoscopy only to be told that things have gotten worse.  I may be feeling better, but the colon doesn't lie.

My fear is that this is what the herbs may be doing.   But then again, isn't that what all drugs do?  Since the cause of Crohn's is not known, the various drugs used to treat Crohn's merely cover up the symptoms by reducing some of the inflammation.  But the root of the Crohn's is still there.  Somewhere.

The jury is still out on this one.  In the meantime, I continue to wait.

And I will continue taking the herbs.


Nature called a little after 6 am today.