Easing Crohn’s disease with diet

The evidence of diet playing an important factor in the control and relief of Crohn’s disease symptoms is much stronger in children. But there is general dietary advice which, if followed, can make a difference in easing symptoms.

Drink lots of fluid to keep your body well-hydrated and to prevent constipation, sluggishness and aching muscles. Drinking at least 2 to 3 litres a day is important, especially when passing liquid stools, and this will combat the gradual slip into dehydration. Some sufferers believe that drinking more liquid will exacerbate symptoms. In fact, if you drink three litres you may hold onto 2.8 litres. For those who work in air-conditioned offices, a good liquid intake is vital, as you can lose up to half a litre from the moisture in your breath. An indicator of good hydration levels is to drink enough water to make your urine pale and virtually clear.

Eat a high-fibre diet when your Crohn’s is under control. But during a flare- up, follow a low-fibre diet to minimise symptoms. This will rest the bowel and avoid extending the gut which, in turn, causes pain.

For those who work in air-conditioned offices a good liquid intake is vital, as you can lose up to half a litre from the moisture in your breath.

Eat a low-fat diet, especially if part of the intestines have been surgically removed, as high-fat foods can cause diarrhoea and gas and are thought to extend the gut and stimulate the inflammatory process, causing more pain and making Crohn’s disease more active.

Eat small, frequent meals. Sufferers often wrongly assume that food further inflames the gut by rubbing against it and ulcerated areas. The opposite is true, and the key is to keep the gut stimulated regularly and not starved, as this will only make inflammation worse.

Eating regular meals is especially true for those who have Crohn’s in the upper gut: they need to regulate their digestive system more than those who have Crohn’s in the lower end of the gut.
During a flare-up, there is some evidence to suggest that avoiding lactose-containing foods such as dairy products may help ease symptoms.

Avoid being faddy, and continue to nourish your body, even during a flare-up, by eating a well-balanced, high-protein diet with lean meats, fish and eggs. Malnutrition is a big problem with Crohn’s disease sufferers, so eating 1500 to 1800 calories a day for women, and 1800 to 2200 calories a day for men, is vital to keep yourself healthy.

Limit caffeine, alcohol and sorbitol (a type of sweetener), as these may exacerbate IBD symptoms.

Dr Anton Emmanuel

Dr Anton Emmanuel is a consultant gastroenterologist and senior lecturer in neurogastroenterology at University College, London.
He is also medical director for CORE, the Digestive Disorders Foundation www.corecharity.org.uk
Dr Anton Emmanuel

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