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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Lindey

Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, is an autoimmune condition wherein the immune system attacks the intestines. It is typically debilitating, chronic, and relapsing-remitting—meaning there is no cure. Sufferers are often put on prescription drugs, and may have to get segments of their intestines surgically removed.

Studies suggest that inflammatory bowel disease may start at a very early age. Babies fed formula, rather than breastfed, may have a higher risk of developing the disease. A diet high in animal protein seems to increase the risks, as well. This could be attributed to a variety of reasons: blood components in meat that degrade into carbon monoxide, carcinogens created by cooking muscle or consuming processed meat, pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid and iron, huge amounts of bacteria causing inflammation, or even the antibiotics in meat adversely affecting gut flora.

An animal-based diet may trigger IBD by causing microbial enzyme activity in the intestines, which produces a harmful gas called hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide can interfere with the body’s utilization of fiber, and damage DNA. Fiber is used by our good bacteria to produce butyrate, a beneficial compound that can reverse the adverse effect of sulfide. Fiber helps maintain the intestinal barrier function, and decrease inflammation in the colon. One study showed women who consume high amounts of fiber have a 40% reduced risk of IBD. The standard American diet may have five or six times more sulfur than a diet centered around unprocessed plant foods. Also, sufferers in remission have a higher risk of relapse with consumption of meat and alcohol, both rich sources of sulfur. Sulfur-containing amino acids are also found in dairy and eggs, and even dried fruit contains sulfur dioxide. Choosing organic products helps eliminate the intake of sulfur. Cabbage family vegetables naturally have some sulfur compounds, but they are not associated with elevated colitis risk.

Processed foods contain ingredients that may facilitate the invasion of bacteria. The main ones are polysorbate 80 (found commonly in ice cream, Crisco, Cool Whip, condiments, and cottage cheese); titanium dioxide (a whitening/brightening pigment); maltodextrin (found in Splenda, snack foods, salad dressings, and fiber supplements); and sucralose, which has been shown to increase IBD rates up to 12-fold. The good news is that after stopping consumption, the original balance of gut bacteria may be restored within weeks.

Studies have shown that drinking wheatgrass juice, or ingesting curcumin and oat bran, appear effective and safe to decrease symptoms of disease activity and prevent relapse. Also, eliminating dairy may help roughly one in five sufferers. Certain soluble plant fibers may also inhibit Crohn’s-associated invasive bacteria. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are essential for sustaining intestinal health. But, the best therapy is a whole food plant-based diet, which has afforded the best prevention of relapse, or even obtaining the disease in the first place.

 

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