Can diet help with Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis?
Diet has nothing to do with Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis! My consultant says.
It is one of those phrases that the four walls in my clinic have heard many times... They are underestimating the power of good nutrition.
It’s agreed that inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) involves genetic pre-disposition combined with some involvement of the immune system. This is why diet is dismissed by many. They don’t realise how nutritional therapy has the capacity to influence immune function, lower inflammation and rebuild the gut lining.
Clients with IBD are often malnourished; their bodies haven’t been receiving or absorbing good nutrition for some time. Often there are struggles with weight loss and as well as anaemia and fatigue. It is the simplest nutritional strategies in those early stages that can bring about symptom relief. I tend to recommend stock, soups, weak ginger tea and good quality fats if tolerated, alongside well-chosen supplements.
When acute symptoms subside you can do more to encourage absorption of vital minerals and slowly widen the diet. Beginning to gain weight, having a growth spurt or entering puberty are all signs that the body is beginning to absorb nutrients again.
Sometimes individuals with IBD also present with a high level of anxiety. You could argue that this is a psychological side-effect of dealing with a chronic illness, but I suspect it is associated with altered gut flora and key nutrient deficiencies. Epsom salt baths can help reduce anxiety in the initial stages and is a good source of magnesium.
Identifying key triggers in an individual’s diet is important. If there are specific foods that trigger an inflammatory response then these need to be eliminated. Other significant information in a client’s history includes possible immune system issues. There might be family members with auto immune conditions or the client might exhibit signs of an unbalanced immune system. This would present itself as a history of hayfever, asthma or food allergies and a lack of any real viral challenges ie mild chicken pox or perhaps contracting viruses much later on. This can sometimes be a sign of an immune system not functioning as well as it should.
The next stage of nutritional therapy involves normalising gut and immune system function by supplying the right nutrients, keeping inflammation low and normalising the gut flora. When there is immune system involvement, using Lactobacillus Rhamnosus or Saccharomyces Boulardii can help with crowding unwanted organisms in the gut that may be triggering an immune response.
The long term goal is to have a variety of species in the gut but these two probiotics are a useful therapeutic tool. Contacting a nutrition professional can help you to create a diet plan tailored to you and your symptoms.
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About Sarah Hanratty
Sarah is an experienced practitioner at the Brain Food Clinic specialising in the link between gut function and cognitive well-being.