Diet as an Optional Treatment in Adults With Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Systematic Review of the Literature.

Cureus. 2023;15(7):e42057
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Plain language summary

Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC) are linked with significant morbidity and higher healthcare costs. The current model of CD pathogenesis implies that environmental variables and the gut microbiota interact in those who are genetically predisposed to the condition. The aim of this study was to investigate a treatment based on the diet of IBD patients. This study was a systematic review of nine studies. Results showed that following a diet that reduces inflammation may prevent its recurrence in UC patients in clinical remission. In fact, there were significant systemic changes in the intestinal microbiota of anti-inflammatory diet patients. Authors concluded that a four-week FODMAP diet combined with professional counseling and regular follow-up will be helpful in the therapy of persistent gastrointestinal symptoms in quiescent IBD, although care should be used in the long run.

Expert Review

Conflicts of interest: None

Take Home Message:
Whilst concise, this limited review highlights the current lack of evidence supporting stand alone dietary strategies in preventing relapse for IBD patients. At the very least an anti-inflammatory diet should ideally be implemented alongside specific medical care and counselling to minimise risk of disease relapses.

Evidence Category:
  • A: Meta-analyses, position-stands, randomized-controlled trials (RCTs)
  • X B: Systematic reviews including RCTs of limited number
  • C: Non-randomized trials, observational studies, narrative reviews
  • D: Case-reports, evidence-based clinical findings
  • E: Opinion piece, other

Summary Review:

This systematic review evaluated the efficacy of diet as a preventative therapeutic treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).


A total of 9 studies (published in the last 5 years) were chosen. The articles included 6 randomised controlled trials (RCT), one systematic literature review (SLR) and two SLR and meta-analysis. The authors used the Assessment Systematic Reviews (AMSTAR) approach and an unspecified Cochrane Risk of Bias assessment tool.


(The following refers to the original RCT articles as the review article data was sparse).

  • A 6-month, open-label, randomised, placebo-controlled trial of 53 adult Ulcerative Colitis (UC) patients compared response to an Anti-inflammatory Diet (AID) with Canada’s Food Guide (CFG). The outcome showed that the faecal calprotectin value (<150 µg/g at the endpoint) was significantly higher in the AID group (69.2 vs. 37.0%, p = 0.02) (Keshteli et al., 2022).
  • The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) was not superior to the Mediterranean Diet (MD) in terms of achieved symptomatic remission at 6 weeks (SCD 46.5%, MD 43.5%; p = .77) (Lewis et al., 2022).
  • A single-blind, 4-week trial concluded significant relief from gut symptoms was achieved when comparing a low FODMAP diet (14/27, 52% of positive patient feedback) to a control diet (4/25, 16%, p=.007) (Cox et al., 2020).
  • A 7-day trial of 28 volunteers compared individualised food-based diet (CD-TREAT), with similar composition to Exclusive Enteral Nutrition (EEN) and found a change in relative abundance in faecal microbiome genera of 58 (49.3%) and 38 (32.3%) following both feeding practices respectively (Svolos et al., 2019).
  • Substantial reduction in red and processed meat was not significant in reducing time to symptomatic relapse in Crohn’s Disease (CD) patients when comparing 115 high red meat consumers with 87 low red meat CD patients (p = 0.61 any relapse and p = 0.50 for moderate to severe relapse) (Aldenberg et al., 2019).


An anti-inflammatory diet may prolong clinical remission for UC patients. CD patients, with mild to severe symptoms, may tolerate both the MD and SCD equally well. The authors advise a low FODMAP diet for a 4-week period combined with professional counselling and regular follow-up sessions to delay flare-up episodes. However the findings were based on a very limited number of scientific material that requires extensive further assessment prior to deriving any firm conclusions.

Clinical practice applications:
  • In order to delay relapse in IBD it is imperative that foods that support anti-inflammatory mechanisms are incorporated and maintained
  • Whilst limited, the papers reviewed highlight potential for an initial low FODMAP diet followed by a longer term MD or SCD combined with constant monitoring
  • From one study, red meat consumption did not appear to exacerbate symptoms.

Considerations for future research:
  • Future studies need to include larger cohorts to ascertain the efficacy of dietary interventions as a stand alone treatment option for IBD
  • Longer periods of intervention are needed to confirm dietary intervention efficacy and safety in this population.


While the exact cause of IBD is unknown, there are a number of factors that are thought to contribute to its development, including environmental and genetic factors. While exclusive enteral nutrition (EEN) is a promising therapy for Crohn's disease (CD), it is not yet considered a first-line treatment. Additionally, the efficacy of EEN compared to corticosteroid treatment is still being investigated. EEN is suggested as a first-line therapy by which guidelines and in which age groups, as it may differ in pediatric and adult recommendations. Another finding was that dietary changes involving an increase in anti-inflammatory foods and decreased intake of foods high in inflammatory compounds are linked to a beneficial outcome both metabolically and microbiologically in patients with ulcerative colitis (UC) in remission. For relevant medical literature, we examined PubMed/Medline, the Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar as examples of medical databases. The articles were identified, evaluated, and eligibility applied, and nine publications were found. The finished articles investigated the role of several diet alternatives for patients with IBD. Some others have shown that following a normal low-fat diet may be effective in reducing the occurrence of subclinical colitis. The EEN and partial enteral nutrition (PEN) indicated no significant differences between both regimens, but both had good outcomes during active IBD. Other strict diets, such as the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) versus the Mediterranean diet (MD), demonstrate excellent outcomes in patients with IBD. Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAP) dietary counseling improves gastrointestinal symptoms and quality of life in IBD patients. Based on the above, we concluded that more studies determining which component of the diet is not clear (proteins, carbs balanced) or diet types are required to establish a particular diet employed as a treatment intervention in these individuals.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Digestive, absorptive and microbiological
Patient Centred Factors : Mediators/Inflammatory bowel diseases
Environmental Inputs : Diet
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Nutrition ; Environment
Functional Laboratory Testing : Not applicable

Methodological quality

Jadad score : Not applicable
Allocation concealment : Not applicable
Publication Type : Journal Article ; Review