Can the Specific Carbohydrate Diet ease IBD? A new study gives hope

March 13, 2017 Karlee J. Ausk, MD


Every week, patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis ask me what they should be eating to ease the abdominal pain, fatigue and other symptoms of these conditions. Until now, there has been very little evidence-based information to guide our discussions.  This recently published study, by our colleagues at Seattle Children’s Hospital, begins to answer those questions.

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is believed to occur when a person has two things:

  • A genetic predisposition
  • An abnormal immune response to something in the environment that triggers inflammatory changes in the bowel wall

What is the Specific Carbohydrate diet?

IBD is often associated with a change in the microbiome, those hundreds of species of bacteria living in your gut. Because what you eat can change your microbiome, researchers decided to study the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, or SCD, in 12 children with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

The SCD eliminates all grains, processed foods, sugars (except honey) and most dairy products. In the study, eight of the 12 participants’ clinical symptoms and inflammatory blood tests improved after 12 weeks on the diet.

More to learn

It’s important to note that this is a very small study involving pediatric patients.  As a gastroenterologist with adult patients, I look forward to seeing whether adults with IBD will experience similar improvements and whether this response rate holds for larger groups of patients.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are very diverse conditions.  Classically, medications that work for one person won’t work for everyone, and diet therapy is no different.

Let a dietitian help

If my patients are interested trying the SCD, I strongly recommend working with a registered dietician, who can provide in-depth information about this restrictive diet. A dietician also can help make sure you don’t end up consuming too few calories. 

As always, make sure to tell your care provider about any changes you’re making in treatment, including your diet.

This small trial isn’t enough to say that the SCD will be the new mainstay of inflammatory bowel disease treatment.  But it’s a step in the right direction.  I hope that diet ultimately becomes one of several treatment options we can use to help people with IBD live healthy lives.

If you have inflammatory bowel disease or believe you are at risk, the Swedish Digestive Health Network can help. Call our nurse navigator at 1-855-411-6944 to schedule a consultation, or visit our website to learn more about our services.

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