Treatment options vary and what works for one person doesn’t always work for the next. Some people choose medications exclusively, others opt for dietary and lifestyle modifications, and others elect a combination of things.
Many people with IBD are incorrectly told that what they eat has nothing to do with their disease (gasp!), but we know that the opposite is true. What we eat has A LOT to do with it.
I’m especially interested in research concerning the role of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) in managing IBD symptoms and inflammation.
What is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet?
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) eliminates almost all carbohydrates except for glucose, fructose and galactose. These three “simple” sugars are monosaccharides, which means that they don’t require further digestion in order to be absorbed.
The idea behind the SCD is that people with IBD might not completely break down (aka digest) certain types of carbohydrates due to excess mucus production getting in the way of the digestive enzymes needed for carbohydrate digestion. Undigested sugars attract sugar-loving microbes from the large intestine to the small intestine where they can cause an array of problems, including damage to the intestinal membrane and dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria).
The following foods are allowed on the SCD: fresh fruit, non-starchy vegetables, unprocessed meats and fish, honey, lactose-free cheese, homemade yogurt, and select legumes.
What do IBD patients have to say about the SCD?
In 2015 the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics surveyed 50 IBD patients with inactive disease about their experiences with the SCD. Two-thirds of participants reported 100% symptom improvement after an average of 10 months on the diet. When asked to rate the effectiveness of the SCD, 91% of patients stated that it was effective in controlling acute flare symptoms whereas 92% reported that it was effective at maintaining remission. Click here for more findings from this study.
A 2016 study anonymously surveyed 417 IBD patients who reported following the SCD. Three-quarters of respondents reported remission thanks to the diet. One-third reached remission two months after starting the diet whereas 42% reported remission after 12 months. Of note, these findings must be taken with a grain of salt since most of the patients were recruited from SCD-specific websites.
What's on the horizon in terms of SCD research?
Just last year the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America was awarded $2.5 million to study the effectiveness of the SCD compared to a Mediterranean-style diet to induce remission in Crohn’s disease. This study is expected to be the largest clinical trial investigating the efficacy of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet in IBD patients.
Lots to look forward to, so stay tuned for updates on this study and more!
In the meantime, if you are interested in trying the SCD then seek advice from a knowledgeable registered dietitian or other health care provider who can help determine if this diet is right for you.
- Crohn's & Colitis. First-Ever National Study of Dietary Interventions to Treat Crohn's Disease Receives Funding | Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.
- Kakodkar S, Farooqui AJ, Mikolaitis SL, Mutlu EA. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet for Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Case Series. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015;115(8):1226-1232
- Lewis JD, Abreu MT. Diet as a Trigger or Therapy for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Gastroenterology. 2017;152(2)
- Suskind DL, Wahbeh G, Cohen SA, et al. Patients Perceive Clinical Benefit with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Digestive Diseases and Sciences. 2016;61(11):3255-3260