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Nutritional Support for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (CD), according to Lan et al., are characterized by chronic inflammation in intestinal mucosa. There is little information available based on human studies that links nutritional support with inflammatory bowel disease. The authors of this article analyzed the available information about supplements that appear beneficial in healing the gut mucosa. 

The intestinal epithelium acts as a selective barrier, and inflammatory bowel disease can disrupt this important barrier, affecting absorption, mucus production, and enteroendocrine secretion. Intestinal wound healing, according to the linked article, is “dependent on the precise balance of several processes including migration, proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis of the epithelial cells.” Although there are few human clinical studies (more are animal and cell model studies) there is evidence that both macronutrient and micronutrient deficiencies may exist in patients who have inflammatory bowel disease. Patients may have malnutrition of proteins, of minerals and vitamins. Following are some points from the article:

  • Arginine, glutamine, and glutamate are noted as amino acids that contribute to mucosal healing in animal studies, as well as threonine, methionine, proline, serine, and cysteine. 
  • Short-chain fatty acids, which are the result of metabolized dietary fiber (grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables), and resistant starch (beans, potatoes, brown rice) are a major source of energy for epithelial cells in the colon
  • Vitamin A deficiency is common in patients with newly diagnosed IBD
  • Vitamin D may decrease intestinal fibrosis, and reduce risk of Crohn’s relapse
  • Vitamin C and Zinc may both help heal epithelial wounds in the colon
  • During the remission phase, some foods may be poorly tolerated, such as dairy
  • During an active flare of IBD, a patient may require enteral nutrition 

The authors conclude that the exact mechanisms by which the various dietary compounds contribute to bowel healing is still unknown. Furthermore, the ability to make clear dietary recommendations is limited by the lack of clinical studies. At a minimum, this information can alert the pelvic rehab provider to discuss the potential benefits of nutrition on bowel health with patients. Many of us are quite comfortable giving advice about drinking appropriate amounts and types of fluid, or eating more whole and less processed foods. We can take our nutritional education a step further by encouraging a patient to discuss healing supplements with a provider and/or nutritionist to best support the healing bowel. If you are interested in learning more about nutrition and pelvic health, you might love our newer course Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist Kansas City in March of next year with instructor Megan Pribyl.


Lan, A., Blachier, F., Benamouzig, R., Beaumont, M., Barrat, C., Coelho, D., & Tomé, D. (2015). "Mucosal healing in inflammatory bowel diseases: is there a place for nutritional supplementation?" Inflammatory bowel diseases, 21(1), 198-207.

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