Can IBD Be Treated with Diet Alone?

This question was debated recently in GI and Hepatology News: Can IBD be treated with diet alone?

Ashwin N. Ananthakrishnan, MD, MPH argues that IBD can be treated with diet alone:

  • “Randomized controlled trials published more than a decade ago demonstrated that exclusive enteral nutrition, wherein all table foods are eliminated from a diet and the patient relies on an elemental diet alone for nutrition, was effective in not just inducing clinical remission but also improving inflammatory biomarkers.”
  • “More recent rigorous studies have demonstrated that the effects of exclusive enteral nutrition can be mimicked either by a selected, less-restrictive diet (such as CD-TREAT4), which is more sustainable, or by combining partial enteral nutrition with an elimination diet that is quite diverse (such as CDED5).”

Laura Raffals, MD, MS argues against treating IBD with dietary therapy.

  • “Exclusive enteral nutrition (EEN) has been studied the most rigorously of all diets in IBD and has demonstrated the greatest benefit, compared with other diet studies in IBD. EEN requires the intake of elemental, semi-elemental, or polymeric formulas to meet all nutritional requirements without additional intake of food for 6-8 weeks. Studies have been performed mostly in pediatric populations and have shown effectiveness in induction of remission with reduction in inflammatory markers, including C-reactive protein, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and fecal calprotectin, and even mucosal healing. EEN has not worked out as well for adult populations, because of the poor tolerability of exclusive intake of enteral formulas.”
  • “Beyond EEN, there are many diets that have been considered … only the SCD and Crohn’s disease exclusion diets have shown improvement in clinical remission and reduction in inflammatory markers.”
  • “Most dietary studies are underpowered, lack a control arm, and do not include endoscopic endpoints. The current body of evidence remains insufficient to support the use of diet alone for the treatment of IBD.”

My take: Except for exclusive enteral nutrition (EEN) which is quite challenging, dietary therapies have not been proven as effective long-term stand-alone treatments. In patients who choose dietary therapy, careful monitoring is particularly important.

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