My Struggle with Crohn’s Disease

When I was 19, I almost died of Crohn’s disease.  I had eaten at a restaurant where it appeared I had contracted food poisoning.  Shortly after the meal, I experienced abdominal cramping, fever, and diarrhea.  After two days, my condition had not improved so I visited the health clinic at the university I was attending.  There, I was prescribed the sedative Valium, and told to take hot baths and Tylenol.  After several days, it became obvious that this regimen was ineffective.  At this point, I was very weak and took a cab to the emergency room.  I was told by the doctors at the hospital that there was nothing they could do and that my symptoms should clear up on their own eventually.  After a few more days of terrible shooting abdominal pains, diarrhea, fever, inability to keep food down, and weakness, I was finally admitted to the hospital.

Once there, my condition only worsened.  My temperature soared to 106 F.  I was put into intensive isolation where anyone entering the room had to put on a disposable gown, mask, hat and surgical gloves–all of which were burned after being discarded.  The latest treatments and high-tech equipment were unsuccessful in lowering my body temperature.  As a last ditch effort, I received alcohol rubdowns in order to reduce my temperature.  My only nutrition was received through a tube.  I was injected with intravenous antibiotics as well as with Valium every four hours.  Finally, with rest, my condition slowly improved.  After innumerable tests, I was finally diagnoses with Crohn’s disease.  I spent the next month at home recuperating, eating a limited-fiber diet, and taking vitamins and antibiotics.

Growing up, I had a cast-iron stomach.  I could consume enormous amounts of food.  As a teenager, I became aware of a sensitivity to spaghetti–one of my favorite foods.  Sometimes I could eat the dish and not have any symptoms, while other times, I got gas pains.  It wasn’t until I was studying in college that I realized I, in fact, had chronic digestive symptoms.  Looking back, it is easy to identify the source of my problems: stress, lack of exercise, and the college cafeteria.


In terms of stress, at the time I was experiencing great personal turmoil.  I was three thousand miles away from my family in a new town where I did not have many friends.  I had just finished a job as a counselor to abused and emotionally disturbed children, an experience that brought me joy and satisfaction, but was also traumatic.  While at college, my grades were not good enough for the graduate school that I wanted to attend.


As for exercise, what little I did get was even stressful.  I was one of the only white basketball players in my neighborhood and I was often heckled with racial slurs. In high school, I had been an athlete and played on several varsity teams.  This ensured that I was getting exercise on a nearly daily basis.  Unskilled enough to make the university basketball team, I decided to focus on my studies, which seemed more important.


As you can imagine, a young single man away from home for the first time, my diet deteriorated.  The college cafeteria’s offerings where either not appetizing, or were loaded with grease.  Fat and grease, unsurprisingly, contribute to digestive conditions.  At this point in my life, I was trying to be a vegetarian and was eating many foods that were not good for me.  I used soy and cheese as my main sources of protein, both of which are common allergens.  Allergens can cause inflammatory conditions to flare up.  I indulged in sweets, which contribute to digestive disorders, as is alcohol.  Alcohol was in no shortage at parties each weekend and I often had beer a few days a week while socializing or watching sports.

Milk also played a part in my digestive problems.  I believe now that humans should stop drinking milk at age eighteen or younger.  Anyone with a digestive condition should stop regardless of age.  No wonder I felt like I had an active volcano in my stomach and why I prayed for relief.

From Doctor to Doctor

I initially visited the campus health clinic with my symptoms and was told it was my nerves.  Then I was prescribed the sedative phenobarbital and referred to the school psychologist who told me, “Your stomach isn’t messed up, you are.”

In the year leading up to my hospitalization with Crohn’s, I was sick much more than usual.  I had taken a number of rounds of antibiotics, which destroy the friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract as well as the disease-causing ones.  The resulting imbalance very well may have been the cause of my symptoms.  I was next referred to a gastroenterologist who administered a barium enema.  He said that I was not intolerant to milk, that there was nothing wrong except that I had a “spastic colon.”  He prescribed fiber products, which only made my symptoms worse.  One night, after eating a spaghetti dinner, the tearing abdominal pains forced me to the local emergency room.  My stomach was pumped, and though weak, I felt much better the next day.

During part of this time, I was living in rural Mendocino County in California. It was rumored that the water was bad and many of my neighbors either boiled their drinking water or drank bottled water; I took no such precautions since there was no formal decree. Later, when I frequently suffered bouts of stomach flu–like symptoms, I began to believe that I had contracted a parasitic infection through drinking the infected water. Parasitic infections are a common cause of digestive problems.

I also suffered from terrible hay fever in the spring and summer. That year, I read a book about natural treatments for hay fever. At the suggestion of this blog, I stopped drinking milk, even though my doctor had said I was not milk intolerant. My digestive and allergy symptoms did in fact improve, but other remedies I tried from health food stores didn’t seem to help.

Finding Herbal Medicine

After graduating from college, I went to live in San Francisco. One of my jobs was selling an ancient Tibetan herbal remedy to health food stores and alternative doctors. The remedy had been studied in clinical trials in Europe, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had not approved it for sale in the U.S. This exposure to alternative medicines opened up a new world to me. I also began to learn about Chinese herbs. I tried them during the periods when I had flare-ups. Since being hospitalized initially, I still had several flare-ups a year, during which I experienced severe pain and had to eat a bland diet. Much of the rest of the time I had frequent gas, abdominal bloating, and a feeling of fullness. I found that by taking a Chinese herbal remedy, I was able to reduce the flare-ups to two or three days instead of the usual two weeks. I also found Chinese herbal decoctions (herbs boiled to make a tea) gave me the energy to recover from colds and flu.

These experiences lead me to study all I could about herbal medicine. I developed a passion for Chinese herbs, introducing doctors, health food stores, and individuals to herbal medicine. Testimonials from doctors and herbalists, whose patients used these products, began coming into the office where I worked. After this company folded, demand for our herbal remedies remained. I decided to start my own company manufacturing Chinese and Western herbal products, slowly adding more and more formulas to my line.

These early days were very trying. I faced a vendetta by a federal government employee who seemed to consider my demise a way of boosting his career. Luckily his actions were so outrageous (such as sending an unapproved and slanderous questionnaire to my customers) that my congressman took an interest and helped resolve this situation. During my tribulations, I kept my goal in mind: to help the millions of people who have digestive, gynecological, and immune disorders by publicizing, researching, and writing about the benefits of herbal medicine.  The herbal formulas that I have developed have now been successfully used by thousands of digestive patients. Several of the formulas have been researched at prestigious universities such as the University of California, San Francisco.

Fortunately, in the last ten years, herbal medicines have moved from the health food fringe movement into the aisles of major drug store chains. Consumers and even medical professionals are now more open to their use. When I went to my ear, nose, and throat doctor even she extolled the benefits of two popular herbs, echinacea and ginkgo!

Managing My Disorder

Many people ask me about the current state of my Crohn’s disease. In the past ten years I have had only one serious flare-up. It was brought on by eating popcorn, a food my body does not tolerate. Luckily, herbal remedies rapidly resolved that flare-up. I have never been on steroids, a common treatment for Crohn’s. For this, I am very grateful. I quickly resolve any abdominal bloating or intestinal gas I experience by being more careful about what I eat and by taking herbal remedies. I also have come to understand that antioxidant vitamins and folic acid have a preventive effect on inflammatory mechanisms. I take these on a daily basis. In order to avoid antibiotics, which for me cause an exacerbation of digestive symptoms, I treat any cold or flu with herbs. Finally, I remain committed to exercise, daily meditation, and my mission of helping people with digestive and other disorders.

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