A high-fiber diet rich in plant proteins and whole foods may be effective to treat Crohn’s disease, according to a recently published case report.
“This case study offers hope for hundreds of thousands of people suffering from the painful symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease,” Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and co-author of the study, said in a press release.
The study, “Crohn’s Disease Remission with a Plant-Based Diet: A Case Report” was published in the journal Nutrients.
Diet plays a vital role in regulating gut bacteria, inflammation, and associated symptoms in patients with inflammatory bowel disorders (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Moreover, IBD can be triggered by a diet high in processed food. Research has shown that dietary changes can serve as a therapeutic option for IBD.
In this study, the researchers describe the case of a 25-year-old man with Crohn’s disease who presented with weight loss, flu-like symptoms, severe diarrhea and a history of abscesses around the anus. Colonoscopy revealed inflammation and damage in the intestine and multiple intestinal ulcers, confirming the diagnosis.
He was treated with intravenous injection of infliximab (brand name Ixifi), 5 mg/kg, every eight weeks. However, the treatment did not alleviate the clinical symptoms, and 37 weeks later, the dose was increased to 7.5 mg/kg. One year of infliximab treatment reduced the symptoms but did not result in remission. The patient reported fatigue, bloating, and intermittent episodes of severe abdominal pain.
During the treatment, the patient consumed a typical American diet that included meat, processed foods, refined grains, and dairy products. Vegetable and fruit consumption was modest.
After two years of infliximab treatment, the patient switched to a special diet for 40 days as part of a religious observation. The 40-day whole food diet was plant-based and low in processed products, with consumption of animal products limited to one serving or fewer per week. During this period, the patient reported a complete alleviation of symptoms.
This was the first time the patient experienced complete remission from Crohn’s disease-related symptoms. Therefore, he continued the diet beyond the 40 days and permanently switched to this new plant-based meal plan. In a few reported instances when the patient failed to adhere to the diet, fatigue, nausea, bloating, and ulcers returned, confirming that the change to a plant-based diet had been beneficial to him.
In addition to the new diet, the patient also incorporated exercises such as yoga, running, and weight training to his routine. After six months of change in diet and lifestyle, colonoscopy revealed complete healing of the intestinal lining and absence of any symptoms related to Crohn’s disease. One year after the follow-up, infliximab treatment was also stopped.
The researchers said the patient has reported no significant relapse of symptoms 10 months after discontinuing infliximab.
Plant-based diets are rich in fiber, which supports the overall health of the gut and promotes the growth of helpful bacteria that protect from Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal problems, the authors wrote.
Although further research is needed, these findings contribute to the growing evidence that patients with Crohn’s disease may benefit from a diet rich in plant proteins and whole foods.
“A diet consisting of whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables has been shown to be helpful in the prevention and treatment of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, gallbladder disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and many cancers. Although further research is required, taken in the context of emerging evidence, this case report suggests that Crohn’s disease might be added to this list of conditions,” the authors wrote.
“This case study supports the idea that food really is medicine. … Not only does it show that eating a high-fiber, plant-based diet could help lead to Crohn’s disease remission, but all the ‘side effects’ are good ones, including a reduced risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer,” Kahleova concluded.
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