Inflammatory Bowel Disease Needs a Team

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

Are you a lake person, or a beach person? Growing up, I was told you couldn’t be both. But many of you reading this, like me, probably enjoy aspects of both. You might like the serenity of the lake and the beauty of the sand. You love swimming in the ocean, but also the thrill of tubbing or jet skiing. What if you could find a place that had the “best of both worlds?”

Traditional medicine (your Primary Care Provider (PCP), Gastroenterologist) and functional medicine (lifestyle optimization, dietary modifications, etc) can exist together and have quite a synergistic effect.

I think many people see these ends of health and medicine as mutually exclusive, almost as if you have to use one or the other. As someone who practices using more of a functional medicine approach, thank goodness for traditional medicine. I tore my ACL and medial meniscus in college and had it not been for my Orthopedist, I’d probably not be walking currently. But I also wouldn’t expect my PCP to keep up with the latest research on probiotics.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can be a real nasty, life-altering condition. The best approach to IBD, in my view, is to get your regularly scheduled colonoscopies to rule out life-threatening situations, and then use diet, lifestyle, and supplementation to support your gut before moving on to more “heavy-hitting” pharmaceuticals.

If you were to dig a small hole in your backyard, you’d probably first use a shovel, before purchasing an excavator.

Say you’re walking on the beach, and you step on some glass. There’s discomfort for sure. Do you think it would then make sense to remove all the sand from the beach? “If we remove all the sand, we’ll likely remove all the glass as well,” is a very reductionistic way of looking at it. While yes the glass would be gone, the sand serves a purpose, a purpose that will be made very obvious once it is gone. Wouldn’t you want to figure out WHY the glass was there in the first place?

That’s basically what certain medications and surgeries for IBD are doing, removing all the sand from the beach in hopes the glass will be picked up as well. Are too many people bringing glass bottles to the beach (eating too much processed food)? Put up a sign not allowing glass on the beach (eat more whole, natural foods). If you figured out why the glass was on the beach (why your gut became inflamed) you can get to the root cause of the issue! That way you can enjoy all the luxuries of a beach (and a healthy gut).

Now there may be some areas of the beach that have so much glass, you might have to remove some of the sand to prevent people from stepping on glass (you might need medications if you’ve lost 20 pounds in 3 days from diarrhea). Maybe for 10 years, you tried telling people not to bring the glass to the beach, but it got so bad that you had no choice but to remove all the sand (maybe you tried probiotics and a paleo diet for 10 years but just couldn’t kick diarrhea, so you might need the “heavy-hitters”).

But at least you tried. I’d imagine most beaches would have pretty good success with putting up “no glass” signs. You’re going to have some rule-breaking citizens who bring in a 6-pack of their favorite glass bottled beverages (nights you go out to eat, have some pizza, have some cake), life happens.

When you understand that IBD is an autoimmune disease, there are “big rocks” of health we can address first (Read The 6 Tips for Living with Autoimmunity). Once you’ve exhausted these lifestyle pillars, we can explore supplementation personalized to you. While you’ve probably read things like probiotics and turmeric may be beneficial for you, everybody is different, and there’s more nuance in the application of the supplements than in whatever the heck an NFT is.

If you’ve optimized for these two phases (lifestyle and supplements) then it might be time to bring out the “heavy hitters.” As to what those heavy hitters would look like, that’s outside the scope of my practice, and likely requires a visit with your PCP and potentially a gastroenterologist. I recommend my patients with IBD to work with a gastroenterologist, especially in case of dire circumstances, and even if lifestyle changes have given you tremendous benefits.

We don’t need to be so binary in our healthcare decision-making. Traditional, western medicine does some phenomenal things, and so does the more holistic, functional medicine route. If they both have their benefits, if we learn to put our egos aside, we can obtain the “best of both worlds.”

If no one’s ever explored the idea of lifestyle, diet, and supplement support for your IBD, then head on over to The HIVE Natural Health Center. Where our team understands how to use an integrated approach to your health journey.

As always, Trust in Your Gut.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for educational purposes only, and are not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Do not apply any of the information in this article without first speaking with your doctor.




Empowering those with IBS & SIBO to trust in their gut and return to living a purpose-filled life. Functional Medicine Practitioner. Instagram: @dr.nickbelden.

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Dr. Nick Belden, DC

Dr. Nick Belden, DC

Empowering those with IBS & SIBO to trust in their gut and return to living a purpose-filled life. Functional Medicine Practitioner. Instagram: @dr.nickbelden.

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