Crohn's and Colitis: Is the Paleo Diet the Answer?
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) are two of the most common types of inflammatory bowel disease. Often, they can be managed with medication; however, like most abdominal problems, it is equally important to pay attention to diet and lifestyle choices. Since certain types of foods and beverages can act as triggers in IBD, following a proper diet can help manage and alleviate symptoms. One diet in particular, known as the Paleo diet, can be beneficial in eliminating inflammatory stressors commonly associated with the gastrointestinal tract.
The Paleo diet reflects the similar diet of the prehistoric hunter-gatherer and embraces the intake of ‘healthy fats’. It entails eating foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, and nuts, all while limiting intake of foods that are known to trigger IBD flare-ups, such as processed foods and refined sugar. Other restricted foods include the following:
- Dairy products – Lactose intolerance seems to be common in IBD. For this reason, most individuals with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis choose to eliminate dairy products from their diet altogether.
- Whole grains – Whole grains tend to cause gas and increase the frequent need to produce stool. They can also worsen symptoms of proctitis, which is inflammation of the anus and the lining of the rectum. Eliminating whole grains can alleviate such symptoms.
- Legumes – Foods, such as beans and other legumes, tend to increase the production of gas and stool. Avoiding such foods can provide relief to the bowels.
The Paleo diet has shown great promise for IBD because it eliminates inflammatory foods that are known to aggravate the gastrointestinal tract. While every individual’s gastrointestinal tract is different, eating higher amounts of antioxidants from healthy fats encourages healing. Antioxidants play a protective role on the tissues within the body, thereby reducing inflammation and alleviating persistent symptoms.
Moreover, the Paleo diet focuses on foods rich in B vitamins and other nutrients that are essential to the body. It is such vitamins and nutrients that can help ease symptoms of Crohn’s disease and UC, such as chronic diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and loss of appetite. Finally, the Paleo diet entails getting plenty of rest and exercising moderately in an attempt to eliminate inflammatory stressors of the gastrointestinal tract.
A study conducted back in 2015 aimed to study the effect of a Paleo diet over other control diets. The researchers found that following a Paleo diet was associated with more short-term improvements in risk factors for certain chronic diseases. “For years, diet was ignored, but we physicians are starting to get the message that we need to pay attention to it,” said Ed Loftus, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Another study conducted back in 2014 revealed that an increased intake of omega 3 fatty acids was associated with a lower risk of UC. Finally, a study conducted back in 2013 found that an increased intake of fiber was shown to lower the risk of Crohn’s disease. “So, we have high-level epidemiological evidence that one’s diet probably influences one’s risk of IBD and that the Western diet, which is high in fat and sugar and low in fiber, may be one of the culprits,” said Dr. Loftus.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of Paleo for inflammatory bowel disease.