While anti-inflammatory medications and more intensive treatments/procedures can provide acute relief, IBD sufferers need long-term solutions that don’t come with such severe side effects.
Most of us don’t think of food as having anti-inflammatory potential, but as it turns out, making the right dietary choices can help out more than a little bit with IBD.
Under the IBD Umbrella
Same Root Cause, Different Symptoms
Inflammatory bowel disease is a category of disorders that differ from each other in several important ways. Moreover, two patients with the same disorder may show strikingly different symptoms based on progression, flare-ups, and other circumstances.
First of all, it’s important to understand which conditions exist within the IBD category, as well as how they affect the body.
Ulcerative colitis and Chron’s are the only two conditions classified under inflammatory bowel disease.
Ulcerative colitis refers to inflammation of the inner walls of the colon, characterized by discomfort, bleeding, and a few less common symptoms.
Chron’s disease is arguably more complex (and less understood), involving colon inflammation that pervades deeper into the tissue and a greater potential for worsening, functionally limiting symptoms.
Both disorders are typically chronic, and both usually follow a relapsing-remitting pattern.
Both disorders are also similar in that diet can improve or worsen symptoms, though Chron’s patients are generally more sensitive in this regard.
As such, it’s highly important for anyone experiencing IBD to both seek out anti-inflammatory foods and avoid foods/substances that increase inflammation.
A patient’s commitment level to this effort can very much influence their ability to comfortably go about their daily lives.
Evidence-Supported Anti-Inflammatory Foods
The nutritional needs for both kinds of IBD patients are highly individualized, since patients go through different phases of these diseases and/or flare-ups.
However, experts have been able to define fairly broad parameters in terms of which nutrients to seek out and which to avoid.
One particular plan that gained considerable acclaim is called the IBD-AID regimen.
According to this finding from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the IBD-AID regimen follows five basic steps, including:
The modification of select carbohydrate sources
Increased emphasis on pre- and probiotics
Distinguishing between saturated, trans, mono- and polyunsaturated fats
Reviewing the overall dietary pattern to supplement missing nutrients and identify intolerances
Optimizing food texture as needed by the patient
This rationale lends important insights into the symptomology of IBD patients, both during and between flare-ups, as well as the physiology driving these diseases.
For example, the focus on pre- and probiotics supports the widely accepted notion that the billions of benevolent bacteria housed in our digestive system can strongly influence IBD symptoms.
According to the University of Massachusetts study, “limiting lactose, excess fat, excess carbohydrates, and reducing fiber in the diet is necessary, particularly during flares of disease.”
Specifically, the IBD-AID recommends the following foods for various stages/forms of the disease:
Select fruits and vegetables
These are just a few foods that qualify, and as mentioned, recommendations vary based on the patient’s symptoms.
Spotlight on the Mediterranean diet
A more familiar diet that aligns closely with the IBD-AID in its ability to address inflammation is the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in vitamins A, C, and D, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, and other plant-based nutrients.
This study from “S. De Bellis” Research Hospital in Italy explains how multiple reviews assessing the effects of the Mediterranean diet (MD) on IBD revealed several advantages of consistent adherence to the diet.
For example, IBD patients following the MD diet showed significant improvements in their intestinal microbiome, referring to the benevolent bacteria already mentioned.
In addition to promoting immunity, a healthy metabolism, and a laundry list of other benefits, keeping this microbiome “well-fed” is an excellent way to keep GI distress (inflammation included) under control.
The MD also prompted “methylation of genes related to inflammation,” per the study, meaning it could actually offset the genetic component of the body’s inflammation response to some degree.
To be clear, these benefits are associated with long-term, consistent adherence to the diet.
Finally, it’s important to bring up the issue of fiber, a stable fixture of the Mediterranean diet.
When experiencing flare-ups, most IBD patients are advised by their doctors to avoid both types of fiber (soluble and insoluble), as these can worsen symptoms.
Even healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are wisely avoided during the IBD flare up, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid nutritious food altogether.
Eggs, lean meat, lettuce, and lightly processed fruits and vegetables (no peels, skins, seeds, etc.) are all low-fiber options to help you through a flare-up.
In most cases, after the flare-up has died down, fiber is your friend once again.
The Role of Anthocyanins
Lastly, we want to shed light on an often overlooked class of compounds called anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins are antioxidants that give foods like blackberries, red cabbage, and cherries their respective colors.
These natural pigments have proven themselves very useful as anti-IBD agents, an argument laid out convincingly by a study from Purdue University in Indiana.
According to the authors, anthocyanins can modify the body’s immune response by significantly inhibiting the “expression and secretion of TNF-α (tumor necrosis factor alpha, a pro-inflammatory substance),” effectively reducing inflammation for IBD patients.
These compounds also offset “gut permeability,” meaning they make it harder for inflammation to pervade deep into GI tract tissues.
Additionally, anthocyanins have proven to have anti-obesity, anti-cancer, anti-microbial, and analgesic properties.
IBD or not, if a food is naturally blue, purple, green, or dark red, eat it.
Why Anti-IBD Dieting Can Benefit Anyone
Beyond Inflammatory Bowel Disease
In most cases, “anti-IBD” is synonymous with “anti-inflammatory,” which is a much needed benefit for modern dieters. Many of the foods we eat tend to increase inflammation, which can lead to a huge range of disorders outside of IBD.
You don’t have to have IBD to fall victim to chronic inflammation.
The Western diet especially is extremely poor at managing inflammation, since processed foods, sugar, artificial additives, and other popular items have the opposite effect.
As such, many of us are silently suffering from chronic inflammation, even if it hasn’t manifested itself in the form of a disorder yet.
Since the vast majority of the anti-inflammatory foods we’ve discussed make up a healthy, balanced diet, we encourage anyone looking to make the shift to plant-based, natural choices.
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TNI Editorial Team
We're health-conscious people who want to help others take control of their nutrition by offering spin-free, hype-free information that is medically accurate, confirmed by doctors.
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