The short answer to the title question is: Yes! But, Crohn’s Disease is a condition that can vary in severity and the same treatment plans do not apply for everyone with Crohn’s Disease. Each client needs a care plan tailored to their disease, symptoms and lifestyle.
Crohn’s Disease is an autoimmune condition and is a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. In Crohn’s Disease there is chronic inflammation that can be anywhere throughout the GI tract, from the mouth to the rectum, but most commonly in the small bowel and beginning of the colon.
Client’s with Crohn’s Disease can experience a myriad of symptoms from chronic loose stools and abdominal pain to fatigue, anemia and weight loss. These clients are generally cared for by a gastroenterologist. Traditional medical therapy for Crohn’s Disease often includes prescription medications such as steroids, anti-inflammatory agents and biologics, which are usually injectable or IV medications.
The amazing thing about Crohn’s Disease, and this has been proven time and time again in scientific literature, is that nutrition therapy can induce and maintain remission in some cases. Remission means healing of the chronic inflammation that has occurred throughout the GI tract. So, what type of nutrition can be used?
- Exclusive Enteral Nutrition: This is typically used for a short period of time, between 6-8 weeks most often, and is encompassed by only drinking nutritional supplements for daily calorie intake. This has been shown to be extremely effective for mucosal healing but the major drawback includes client intolerance of this very restrictive plan.
- Partial Enteral Nutrition: This includes using nutritional supplements for about 30-50% of daily caloric intake. This is often used in conjunction with a whole food elimination diet and recent studies have shown the effectiveness this plan can have in inducing and maintaining remission for patients.
- Elimination diets including the Crohn’s Disease Exclusion Diet (CDED): The CDED has been studied often in recent years. This meal plan has 3 stages. It initially restricts many inflammatory foods, and slowly re-introduces some of them back over a period of 6-12 weeks. Processed foods and additives are recommended to be avoided long term for these patients.
- Personalized meal plans that are tailored to individuals’ known food sensitivities. Through food sensitivity testing, IgE and IgG testing, we can determine which specific foods a person’s body is reacting to, causing inflammation and an ongoing immune response. Then with these results, a personalized meal plan can be developed which will avoid those foods.
These meal plans can be used alone or in combination. For example, a recent pediatric study found that the Crohn’s Disease Exclusion Diet coupled with partial enteral nutrition was as effective at inducing and maintaining remission when compared to steroids. The difficult thing is that these meal plans can at times feel overwhelming or cumbersome to follow for many individuals. As discussed, some plans do restrict foods that are known to be inflammatory, so there is often a major lifestyle adjustment when starting. Working with a team of trained medical providers and nutrition specialists is vital to helping clients be successful and follow the recommendations, stay on track and get into remission!
It is interesting to note that in Europe, Asia, New Zealand and Canada, there is a much higher prevalence in the pediatric and adult population of using nutrition therapy for first-line treatment for patients with mild to moderate Crohn’s Disease. The hope is that we can continue to increase the use of this type of safe and effective treatment in the United States medical world as well.
Crohn’s Disease can be a difficult diagnosis to have for many. But, the amazing news is that nutrition is an effective and safe treatment that can be used either alone in some, or in combination with traditional medical therapies to help clients feel their best, minimize their symptoms and improve their quality of life!
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