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This Superfood Is Your Weapon Against Crohns

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Cod liver oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamins A and D. All of its contents are proven to help Crohn’s disease in multiple ways. In fact, at least one Cochrane review has confirmed that cod liver oil is safe and effective in the treatment of Crohn’s disease. So, what makes this superfood special? How does it improve the symptoms of Crohn’s disease? And how does it compare to other healthy oils? Read on to find out.

Superfood Cod Liver Oil

Cod liver oil is a nutritional supplement and fish oil extracted from the liver of codfish. It is commonly taken for its vitamin A and vitamin D content but like most fish oils, it is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Cod liver oil contains higher levels of vitamins A and D than other fish oils. Each tablespoon of cod liver oil contains over 4000 micrograms of vitamin A and 34 micrograms of vitamin D.

These values are more than triple the daily recommended dietary allowance of the vitamins.

Because of its high content of vitamins A and D, health experts advise people taking cod liver oil supplements to reduce their dietary intake of both vitamins. This is especially important because both vitamin A and vitamin D are fat-soluble and, therefore, can be accumulated in the body in toxic amounts.

High levels of vitamins A and D in cod liver oil are especially useful in the treatment of Crohn’s disease because deficiencies of both vitamins are common among people with this inflammatory bowel disease.

Besides Crohn’s disease, cod liver oil is also used in the treatment of arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Its omega-3 fatty acids are believed to significantly contribute to the healing and repair of joints and muscles.

Cod Liver Oil and Crohn’s Disease

Vitamin A

Vitamin A and its plant-derived provitamins such as lutein and zeaxanthin are important in Crohn’s disease for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, vitamin A deficiency is common among patients with this disease especially those who are not in remission.

Experts believe that vitamin A deficiency in Crohn’s disease is caused by the malabsorption of fats.

The main complication of vitamin A deficiency in Crohn’s disease is the loss of vision especially night blindness caused by retinopathy and conjunctivitis.

The 3 most important medicinal properties of vitamin A in Crohn’s disease are its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune-boosting properties

The anti-inflammatory properties of vitamin A can help speed up the healing of the inflamed lesions and deep ulcers in the gastrointestinal tracts of patients with Crohn’s disease.

The antioxidant activity of vitamin A is related to its effects on immune functions. The production of T-killer cells, a group of important immune cells, depends on vitamin A. Therefore, low vitamin A levels leads to the suppression of T-cells as well as reduced production of lymphocytes.

Since T-cells and lymphocytes are central to the body’s ability to control infections and respond to a bacterial attack, vitamin A deficiency may not only impair the immune system but also lead to widespread colonization of the gastrointestinal tract by the causative bacteria of Crohn’s disease.

To prevent and treat vitamin A deficiency, oral supplements, such as cod liver oil, are recommended.

Cod liver oil supplements are especially good for raising vitamin A levels in Crohn’s disease because they address an even more common deficiency in Crohn’s disease: vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is even more closely tied to Crohn’s disease than vitamin A. Clinical data show that Crohn’s disease is commonly diagnosed in populations with low vitamin D levels.

In addition, there are more cases of active Crohn’s disease in the winter months when vitamin D production in the body is also at its all-year low. Furthermore, Crohn’s disease is common among African-Americans and Europeans who are also known to have high risks of vitamin D deficiency.

In fact, researchers are not quite sure whether Crohn’s disease causes vitamin D deficiency or low levels of vitamin D increase the risk of Crohn’s disease.

However, multiple studies have confirmed that vitamin D is linked to the genetic factors that contribute to Crohn’s disease. For example, vitamin D has been shown to activate the NOD2 gene and the defensin 2 gene.

The activation of the NOD2 gene allows certain cells of the immune system to better recognize and home in on invading bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. The activation of the defensin 2 gene stimulates the production of an antimicrobial peptide.

All of these genetic roles means that vitamin D may reverse the deficiency in innate immunity known to be the root cause of Crohn’s disease.

Therefore, vitamin D supplementation is important in the management of Crohn’s disease.

Because cod liver oil is rich in vitamin D, it is one of the most effective supplements for raising vitamin D levels and quickly reversing the signs of vitamin D deficiency.

Besides its antimicrobial and immune-boosting activities, vitamin D can also provide other benefits for patients with Crohn’s disease. For example, vitamin D supplementation can relieve depression in these patients.

More importantly, vitamin D can reduce the risk of osteomalacia and osteoporosis.

Loss of bone minerals and increased risk of bone fractures are two common complications in Crohn’s disease.

Because vitamin D is important to bone health and vitamin D deficiency is common in Crohn’s disease, cod liver oil can be especially useful in preventing the demineralization of the bone in elderly patients with this inflammatory bowel disease.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The two omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).

These fatty acids are anti-inflammatory agents. The body utilizes these omega-3 fatty acids in the synthesis of anti-inflammatory agents that can help reduce the localized inflammation in the injured intestinal mucosa in Crohn’s disease.

While the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids have been established for some other diseases characterized by inflammation, the use of omega-3 supplements in the treatment of Crohn’s disease has not been thoroughly investigated.

However, preliminary studies generally showed positive results. More specifically, omega-3 fatty acids were shown to reduce the risk of relapse among patients with Crohn’s disease.

Omega-3 Fats and Hemorrhoids

How can omega-3 fats help hemorrhoids? According to Harvard Health, omega-3 fats can help undo the damage caused by unhealthy fats. Unhealthy fats, like trans fats, are difficult for the body to use, which can be extremely damaging and cause inflammation in the intestinal tract. When fats are exposed to high heats, they break down, making them even harder to digest, which can lead to issues like weakened circulation, constipation, and clogged blood vessels.

These three issues contribute to the inflammation of hemorrhoids due to the weakening of the blood vessels around the anus. The worst offenders are hydrogenated fats, according to Harvard Health. Hydrogenated fats are unable to be digested by the body and are treated as waste products. Most packaged foods contain high levels of hydrogenated oils, including cookies, crackers, bread, chips, and anything made with vegetable oils or shortening. Changing the ratio of fats in the body from a high concentration of hydrogenated oils and omega-6 fats to a higher concentration of omega-6 and omega-9 fats can reduce inflammation, strengthen blood vessels, and reduce a person’s chances of painful hemorrhoids.

Where to Find Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fats are not difficult to find, but you won’t find them in packaged foods. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods, the best sources for omega-3 fats include flax seeds, sardines, walnuts, salmon, soybeans, shrimp, Brussels sprouts, squash, and cauliflower. Each serving of these foods provides a different level of omega-3 fats.

Amount of Omega-3 in Each Serving
  • Flax seeds: 133% DRI
  • Walnuts: 113% DRI
  • Sardines: 60% DRI
  • Salmon: 55% DRI
  • Soybeans: 42% DRI
  • Shrimp: 14% DRI

All fatty fish also contain high levels of omega-3 fats, including mackerel, krill, herring, trout, and albacore tuna.

Studies on Cod Liver Oil and Crohn’s Disease

Most studies investigating the benefits of cod liver oil in the treatment of Crohn’s disease specifically demonstrate the therapeutic benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

Of the 2 vitamins in cod liver oil, vitamin D is the more important vitamin for Crohn’s disease.

Combining Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Antioxidants

In a study published in 2000 in the journal, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, the researchers investigated the benefits of combining omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants in Crohn’s disease patients in remission.

For 3 months, the researchers gave 3 groups of patients with long-standing Crohn’s disease and healthy controls liquid preparations of antioxidants, antioxidants plus omega-3 fatty acids or placebo. The antioxidants given to these patients include selenium and vitamins A, C and E.

Before the study, the researchers noted that patients with Crohn’s disease had lower serum levels of these antioxidants as well as antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase than the control group.

However, at the end of the study, the antioxidant profiles of both the control and Crohn’s disease group were similar.

In the patients who also received omega-3 fatty acids, the results showed that the levels of EPA and DHA in adipose tissue and phospholipids increased while the levels of pro-inflammatory markers, such as arachidonic acid, were reduced.

These results showed that the combination of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants can improve Crohn’s disease by its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties.

Since cod liver oil contains a potent combination of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant vitamins, it is the perfect supplement for managing Crohn’s disease.

This is because cod liver oil has the right formulation to reduce the damage of toxins and free radicals, reduce inflammation and modulate the immune response to ongoing damage in the gastrointestinal tract.

Combining Omega-3 Fatty Acids with Crohn’s Disease Drugs

In a 2005 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, the researchers assessed the usefulness of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in addition to the anti-inflammatory drug, mesalazine, in the management of Crohn’s disease.

The study involved 38 children with Crohn’s disease in remission. They were divided into 2 groups.

The first group received the usual dose of mesalazine plus a combination of omega-3 fatty acids presented as enteric-coated capsules. The second group received the same dose of mesalazine plus olive oil placebo capsules.

The results of the study showed that the patients in the first group had higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

In addition, fewer cases of relapse were recorded after 1 year in the first group than in the second group.

Omega-3 Fish Oil in the Treatment of Crohn’s Disease

In 2007, the Cochrane group published a review of past studies investigating the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids for maintaining remission in patients with Crohn’s disease.

The reviewers used 4 studies that

  • were randomized and placebo-controlled
  • used fish oil or omega-3 supplements in defined dosage
  • recruited patients in remission
  • had a follow-up period of at least 6 months

The conclusion of the review was that omega-3 fatty acids were safe and effective in the treatment of Crohn’s disease especially when presented as enteric-coated capsules.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids vs. Omega-6 Fatty Acids

A 2005 study published in the journal, Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, compared the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids against omega-6 fatty acids in the inhibition of proinflammatory cytokines in patients with active Crohn’s disease.

For this study, 31 patients were randomized into 2 groups. One group received an omega-3 fatty acid supplement while the other received an omega-6 fatty acid supplement.

The results of the study showed that omega-3 fatty acids preferentially blocked the release of proinflammatory cytokines while omega-6 fatty acids did not inhibit these cytokines.

This study once again demonstrates the superiority of omega-3 fatty acids over omega-6 fatty acids and why increasing the intake of the former is important to patients with Crohn’s disease.

Animal Study

A 1990 study published in the journal, Gut, provided a more detailed comparison of the effects of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids in the inflammatory process involved in bowel disease.

For this study, the researchers used two groups of rats with granulomatous lesions in their colons.

One group was given sunflower oil (a rich source of omega-6 fatty acids) while the other group received cod liver oil (a rich source of fatty acids). Predictably, after 4 weeks of supplementation, plasma levels of omega-6 fatty acids were raised in the sunflower group and omega-3 fatty acid levels were raised in the cod liver group.

The results of the study showed that

  • the production of the proinflammatory cytokines, prostaglandin E2, and leukotriene B4, declined after day 3 in both groups
  • the production of the proinflammatory cytokine, thromboxane B2, increased in the sunflower group and not in the cod liver group
  • ulcers, inflammation, and lesions were much reduced in the cod liver group after 30 days. At 50 days, the ulcers were completely healed and inflammation was absent in the animals given cod liver oil

This study not only showed that omega-3 fatty acids are better than omega-6 fatty acids in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease, but it also demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acids heal damaged mucosa through a combination of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Human Study

A study similar to the above was published in the same journal in 1991. In this study, the researchers compared the anti-inflammatory effects of olive oil against fish oil in patients with inflammatory bowel disease.

After supplementation with both oils for 12 weeks, the researchers measured inflammatory markers in the mucosa of the colons in these patients.

The results of the study showed that

  • fish oil supplementation raised the levels of the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, in the mucosa of the colon. Fish oil raised EPA levels sevenfold and DHA levels 1.5 fold after 3 weeks of supplementation
  • the levels of arachidonic acid fell throughout the duration of the study in those who received fish oil
  • fish oil supplementation also significantly inhibited the production of prostaglandin E2, thromboxane B2, and 6-keto prostaglandin F1 alpha
  • olive oil supplementation raised the level of oleic acid in the mucosa of the colon
  • stearic acid and DHA levels were reduced in those who received olive oil
  • olive oil supplementation did not inhibit the release of proinflammatory cytokines

This study shows that cod liver oil can quickly raise omega-3 fatty acids in gastrointestinal mucosa and reduce inflammation by blocking the production of proinflammatory cytokines.





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