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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IBD Updates: Depression and Crohn’s Disease, Blood Tests in Pediatric IBD

LW Gaines et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2020; 26: 423-8. In this study with 3307 adults with Crohn’s disease (CD) and baseline demographics, CD activity and an affective-cognitive index of depression, the authors used structural equation models to determine the likelihood of whether depression triggers CD activity or whether CD activity triggers depression.  Key findings: “The hypothesis that an affective-cognitive depression predicts patient-reported exacerbation of CD is 218 times more likely to account for the data than the converse.”   (Depression is likely to increase CD activity rather than be due to CD activity).

JJ Ashton et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2020; 26: 469-76. Among 256 patients (dx 2013-17) in Southhampton-PIBD database, there were 151 with CD, 95 with UC and 10 IBD-unclassified.  Key findings:

  • 9% presented with all normal blood tests (tests analyzed if available: CRP, ESR, Albumin, platelets, packed cell volume, wbc, ALT)
  • Normal labs were more common with UC compared to CD: 14.4% vs 5.3%

RC Ungaro et al. AP&T; 2020; DOI: 10.1111/apt.15685.  (Thanks to Ben Gold for this reference).  Systematic review with meta-analysis: efficacy and safety of early biologic treatment in adult and paediatric patients with Crohn’s disease. A total of 18 471 patients were studied, with  a median follow-up of 64 weeks (range 10-416). Meta-analysis found that early use of biologics was associated with higher rates of clinical remission (OR 2.10 [95% CI: 1.69-2.60], n = 2763, P < 0.00001), lower relapse rates (OR 0.31 [95% CI: 0.14-0.68], n = 596, P = 0.003) and higher mucosal healing rates (OR 2.37 [95% CI: 1.78-3.16], n = 994, P < 0.00001) compared with late/conventional management. Conclusions: Early biologic treatment is associated with improved clinical outcomes in both adult and paediatric CD patients, not only in prospective clinical trials but also in real-world settings.

RS Boneh et al. Dietary Therapies Induce Rapid Response and Remission in Pediatric Patients With Active Crohn’s Disease Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol (online April 14, 2020, in press) Thanks to KT Park’s Twitter feed for this reference.

  • Methods: We collected data from the multicenter randomized trial of the CD exclusion diet (CDED). We analyzed data from 73 children with mild to moderate CD (mean age, 14.2±2.7 y) randomly assigned to groups given either exclusive enteral nutrition (EEN, n=34) or the CDED with 50% (partial) enteral nutrition (n=39). Patients were examined at baseline and at weeks 3 and 6 of the diet. Remission was defined as CD activity index scores below 10 and response was defined as a decrease in score of 12.5 points or clinical remission. Inflammation was assessed by measurement of C-reactive protein.
  • Results: At week 3 of the diet, 82% of patients in the CDED group and 85% of patients in the EEN group had a dietary remission (DiRe). Median serum levels of C-reactive protein had decreased from 24 mg/L at baseline to 5.0 mg/L at week 3 (P<.001). Among the 49 patients in remission at week 6, 46 patients (94%) had a DiRe and 81% were in clinical remission by week 3. In multivariable analysis, remission at week 3 increased odds of remission by week 6 (odds ratio, 6.37; 95% CI, 1.6–25; P=.008) whereas poor compliance reduced odds of remission at week 6 (odds ratio, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.012–0.46; P=.006).
  • Conclusions: For pediatric patients with active CD, dietary therapies (CDED and EEN) induce a rapid clinical response (by week 3).

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