Diet as a Trigger or Therapy for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

Gastroenterology. 2017 Feb;152(2):398-414.e6. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2016.10.019. Epub 2016 Oct 25.


The most common question asked by patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is, "Doctor, what should I eat?" Findings from epidemiology studies have indicated that diets high in animal fat and low in fruits and vegetables are the most common pattern associated with an increased risk of IBD. Low levels of vitamin D also appear to be a risk factor for IBD. In murine models, diets high in fat, especially saturated animal fats, also increase inflammation, whereas supplementation with omega 3 long-chain fatty acids protect against intestinal inflammation. Unfortunately, omega 3 supplements have not been shown to decrease the risk of relapse in patients with Crohn's disease. Dietary intervention studies have shown that enteral therapy, with defined formula diets, helps children with Crohn's disease and reduces inflammation and dysbiosis. Although fiber supplements have not been shown definitively to benefit patients with IBD, soluble fiber is the best way to generate short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, which has anti-inflammatory effects. Addition of vitamin D and curcumin has been shown to increase the efficacy of IBD therapy. There is compelling evidence from animal models that emulsifiers in processed foods increase risk for IBD. We discuss current knowledge about popular diets, including the specific carbohydrate diet and diet low in fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols. We present findings from clinical and basic science studies to help gastroenterologists navigate diet as it relates to the management of IBD.

Keywords: Diet; Inflammatory Bowel Disease; Microbiome; Short-Chain Fatty Acids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Crohn Disease / diet therapy
  • Crohn Disease / epidemiology*
  • Curcumin / therapeutic use
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Diet Therapy
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Dysbiosis / diet therapy
  • Dysbiosis / epidemiology*
  • Emulsifying Agents
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / therapeutic use
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Fermentation
  • Fruit
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / diet therapy
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / diet therapy
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Vegetables
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / epidemiology*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Emulsifying Agents
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Curcumin