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Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Nutrition

What is IBD?

By Elizabeth Herrin MS, RD, LD

IBD is an abbreviation for inflammatory bowel disease. There are two main diagnoses that fall into this condition: Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. These are diagnosed when a patient has chronic inflammation in their intestines. This chronic inflammation causes symptoms like gas/bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bleeding from the GI tract. Sometimes, severe inflammation over time can lead to permanent damage of the GI tract and surgery is required to remove the damaged sections of bowel. 

Crohn’s Disease:

Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract. Genetics may play a role in development of this condition that causes chronic inflammation and abdominal pain. It may also be caused in part by an immune system malfunction. Risk factors include young age (<30), Caucasian descent/Ashkenazi Jewish descent and family history.

Ulcerative Colitis:

Ulcerative colitis affects the colon and rectum. In this condition, ulcers form in your GI tract, causing pain and potentially other complications. This condition may also be attributed to genetics or an immune system malfunction. Symptoms may be aggravated by poor diet and increased stress. Risk factors are the same for UC as for Crohn’s: young age, Caucasian/Ashkenazi Jewish descent, and family history.

Are there any nutritional treatments for IBD?

Nutrition goals for patients suffering from IBD are usually prevention of malnutrition and deficiencies. Malabsorption is common in these patients, meaning they do not absorb nutrients like fats, vitamins, and minerals as effectively. They also are at higher risk of needing surgery called a bowel resection, where part of the intestinal tract is removed. This can lead to deficiencies. Common deficiencies in IBD patients are:

  • Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K)
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin B12
  • Folate

There is not one diet that works for every IBD patient. General recommendations include treating iron deficiency anemia, ensuring adequate intake of quality protein sources, increasing omega-3 fat intake, and increasing fruits and vegetables.

Probiotics show some benefit for people with Ulcerative Colitis. There is no strong evidence to support use of probiotics in Crohn’s Disease, however some patients may still find it beneficial.

In the worst cases, those with a severely compromised GI tract may require artificial nutrition via a feeding tube or an IV, either as a supplement to oral food or instead of oral food.

What foods are good for people with IBD?

Foods that are well tolerated by patients with IBD will vary from person to person. However, patients would benefit from a diet rich in

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Lean Proteins (chicken, turkey, fish)
  • Healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, and nuts
  • Iron rich foods like fortified cereals, eggs, beef, and beans.

They may also benefit from a multivitamin with minerals, especially if they have been on long term steroid treatments.

Have more questions about nutrition for IBD? Make an appointment with our registered dietitian!