When Courtney Maiorino was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2012, she was prescribed steroids and immunosuppressants and told that she’d be on them for the rest of her life. This didn’t feel right to her, but her symptoms were severe and she thought powerful drugs were her only Crohn’s treatment option, so she took them. But after years of side effects and an inner sense that she could feel better than she did, she decided to try to treat Crohn’s disease naturally. After many ups and downs and much pushback from doctors, she eventually found a diet and mindset shift that changed everything. Today, she’s still living with Crohn’s disease (it’s a lifelong condition), but has completely eliminated her symptoms — and her medications.
Getting a Crohn’s Diagnosis
Courtney first started experiencing Crohn’s disease symptoms in 2009, but wasn’t officially diagnosed until 2012. At that point, it had gotten bad: she couldn’t eat anything without running to the bathroom half an hour later. She and her family knew something was seriously wrong, but they didn’t know what; when they got the official diagnosis, their fear was confirmed. “I started crying because I was like, I don’t know what this is but it sounds really serious,” Courtney says.
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease, which means that it causes inflammation of your small and large intestine. Because of this, your body can’t properly digest food, which can cause all sorts of digestive symptoms (diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, constipation, gas, etc), as well as malnutrition, weight loss, pain, and fatigue. Crohn’s is an autoimmune disorder, and there’s currently no known cure. Given all that, it’s understandable why Courtney was so upset at the idea of living with Crohn’s.
After her diagnosis came back, she began conventional Crohn’s treatment. This meant she was given a cocktail of steroids and immunosuppressant drugs, and though she had an innate aversion to taking medications since she was young, she was too scared to say no. “I thought that was going to be the magic pill that made me feel better,” Courtney remembers.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Trying Traditional Crohn’s Disease Treatment — And Paying the Price
Typical Crohn’s treatment involves a lot of very powerful pharmaceuticals, with equally powerful side effects. Doctors may prescribe steroids and immunosuppressants, as they did for Courtney, as well as antibiotics (which we know can have far-ranging negative effects on gut health), biologics (drugs that target a protein made by immune cells), painkillers, and others. Crohn’s treatment can also sometimes involve surgery to remove the most damaged parts of a person’s digestive system. Extreme, we know.
Though the steroids helped make her Crohn’s symptoms “a tiny bit better,” according to Courtney, the trade-offs were nowhere near worth it. The steroids caused her to gain weight rapidly — 20 pounds in six weeks on a 5’2” frame — and she felt “self-conscious and sick and unhappy with my life.” She knew, on some deep inner level, that this wasn’t as good as she could feel. “Doing the Western medicine route alone didn’t help me,” Courtney says.
Though she was majoring in wellness at college, it hadn’t occurred to her up until that point that she could apply what she was learning to herself. Suddenly she felt a spark of possibility: “If this works for healthy people,” she asked herself, “why wouldn’t it work for me?” For the first time, she entertained the possibility that she could treat Crohn’s disease naturally.
Learning to Treat Crohn’s Disease Naturally
Since Crohn’s affects the digestive tract, Courtney knew that any attempt to treat Crohn’s disease naturally would require changing her diet. That’s where she started. She tried “a million different things,” paying close attention to how everything she ate affected her. The first adjustment she made was to remove gluten from her diet, and eventually she cut out dairy and animal products as well. This was tough in her traditional Italian family, where pasta, bread, meatballs, and cheese were always around and food was such an important part of being together — but she knew these changes were non-negotiable, so she pushed through any familial challenges.
As her diet began to have beneficial effects, she also began working with a holistic nurse practitioner. Together, they incorporated supplements into Courtney’s treatment and worked on healing her gut, and she began to see more progress through their collaboration.
Then she hit a major bump on her wellness journey. She went in for some tests, and they were not good: her inflammation markers were high, and a colonoscopy showed her colon was ulcerated and swollen. The doctor gave her two choices: have surgery, or get an infusion medication (similar to chemo) every eight weeks. She did the latter for two years.
At that point, she knew that if she was going to treat Crohn’s disease naturally, she’d need to think bigger. She expanded her wellness journey to include shifting her mindset as well as shifting her food. Making that shift in perspective, according to Courtney, was one of the most important things she did — perhaps even more than changing her diet. She realized that after her diagnosis, she’d felt a lot of anger and resentment (something she says is common among the chronic illness community) that she hadn’t yet worked through. “I was not a fun person to be around,” she remembers.
With the help of her mentor, Jessica Flanigan, and Flanigan’s book The Loving Diet, Courtney began working on shifting her mindset toward her disease, looking at it as a teacher, something to learn from, rather than something to battle with. She began doing yoga, tapping, and deep breathing, and says that the results completely changed her life. At the same time, she shifted her diet more solidly to 100% plant-based.
Her efforts paid off.
In 2016, Courtney had her first-ever colonoscopy that came back completely clean. That’s when she told her doctor, once again, that she wanted to be off medication completely. The doctor disagreed, and didn’t believe that any of Courtney’s diet changes had made any difference. But, Courtney observed, she was the only person in the infusion room — where everyone was on the same drugs as her — who didn’t have any symptoms. Clearly something was working.
So, steadfast in her goal, she wrote a long letter to her doctor that firmly communicated her decision to treat Crohn’s disease naturally. She was stopping the infusion medication, whether her doctor liked it or not.
Living With Crohn’s Disease, One Day at a Time
Courtney went off the infusion medication without any issues, and then a few months later went off the immunosuppressants she’d been on for four years (only after finding out that these drugs had given her liver damage). She’d finally accomplished her goal of becoming medication-free — and still is to this day.
Though it’s scary not to have the backup of medication, she’s proud of where she is and hopeful for the future of her wellness journey. “So far, I feel great. I’m on no meds,” Courtney says, adding that as long as she continues to explore other holistic avenues for living with her Crohn’s disease and managing its symptoms, “I think it’s going to stay that way.”
Have you ever succeeded in treating a chronic disease or chronic symptoms naturally? Share your story in the comments below!
Watch our full interview with Courtney below.
The recovery story above is anecdotal and specific to this particular individual. Please note that this is not medical advice, and that not all treatments and approaches mentioned will work for everyone.
Courtney Maiorino is a certified autoimmune health coach and a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.