Plant-based diet leads to Crohn’s disease remission, according to case study

Crohn's disease

High magnification micrograph of Crohn’s disease. Biopsy of esophagus. H&E stain. Credit: Nephron/Wikipedia

Eating a plant-based diet may be an effective treatment for Crohn’s disease, according to a case study published in the journal Nutrients.

The case study followed a man in his late 20s who had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease after experiencing fatigue, bloating, episodic severe abdominal pain, nausea, and occasional ulcers for several years. His condition did not reach remission after more than a year of intravenous treatment.

During his second year of treatment, the patient removed all animal products and processed foods from his diet for a 40-day religious observation and experienced a total absence of symptoms. The patient decided to maintain the new dietary pattern—which was based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes—and experienced a complete remission of Crohn’s disease. Tests showed complete mucosal healing, and the patient was able to cease medications. He reports no relapses since.

“This case study offers hope for hundreds of thousands of people suffering from the painful symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease,” says study co-author Hana Kahleova, MD, Ph.D., director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Using current treatment regimens, only about 10 percent of traditionally managed Crohn’s disease patients achieve long-term remission, and 50 percent of patients require surgery within 10 years of diagnosis.

The study authors note that plant-based diets are high in fiber, which promotes overall gut health. Fiber also feeds the healthy bacteria in the gut—which may offer a protective effect against Crohn’s disease and other digestive problems. While more research is needed, previous studies have supported the conclusion that diets rich in plant proteins and whole foods may benefit Crohn’s disease patients.

“This case study supports the idea that food really is medicine,” adds Dr. Kahleova. “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.”

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