Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a condition that leads to chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The two most common types of inflammatory bowel diseases are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. While the symptoms associated with these two diseases are very similar, the affected location of the digestive tract varies. Crohn’s disease most commonly affects the end of the small intestine and beginning of the colon, whereas, ulcerative colitis is confined to the colon. Sustained inflammation of the GI tract affects the ability of the digestive organs to function properly, causing many complications. The most common symptoms associated with IBD are frequent diarrhea, abdominal cramping, constipation and rectal bleeding. Other symptoms may include lack of appetite leading to severe weight loss, night sweats, fever and fatigue.

ibd

IBD can develop at any point throughout the lifespan, but most cases develop between the teenage and early adult years. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, it is estimated that approximately 1.4 Americans are living with IBD, and that approximately 1 in 200 college students are affected. The cause of IBD remains unclear. It was once thought that diet and stress could cause IBD, however, it is now believed environmental factors like these could trigger a flare-up, rather than being the root-cause. Instead, researchers now hypothesize individuals with IBD have an immune system which attacks the “good” bacteria in the gut, mistaking it for a foreign invader. This causes the immune system to become inflamed and overtime, can lead to the development of IBD.

At this time, there is no cure for IBD, but the symptoms can be managed and treated. Without proper treatment, the health consequences of IBD can be severe. From a nutritional standpoint, inflammation of the digestive tract can lead to malabsorption of essential macronutrients, vitamins and minerals. This could cause nutritional deficiencies such as low calcium levels, which could lead to reduced bone mineral density. In adults, low calcium can lead to osteoporosis and increase the risk of fracture. Malabsorption of bile in the small intestine can result in watery stool, which could lead to dehydration. Another complication of IBD common in Crohn’s Disease patients is strictures. Strictures is the formation of scar tissue in the wall of the small intestine. As the wall of the intestine narrows, it becomes harder for foods to pass through. A low-fiber or liquid diet may prove beneficial until surgery can be performed to remove the stricture.

At this time, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation does not endorse an IBD diet. They note that certain foods can trigger flare-ups in some people, but not others. Instead, they stress the importance of controlling the symptoms through an individual well-balanced diet, and ensuring adequate vitamin and mineral consumption. When the disease is deemed “active” it is important to avoid spicy foods, high-fiber foods, beans, caffeine, fruits and vegetables with skin and whatever foods you’ve identified as a personal trigger food. If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of IBD, it is important to consult a physician. If you have been diagnosed with IBD but are having trouble managing your weight or balancing your diet, consulting a dietitian may be beneficial. Fortunately, IBD is a manageable disease that overtime can be controlled with proper education and monitoring.

References:

Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation

Mayo Clinic

Trigger Foods

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