Inflammatory bowel disease and immunonutrition: novel therapeutic approaches through modulation of diet and the gut microbiome

Immunology. 2018 Sep;155(1):36-52. doi: 10.1111/imm.12939. Epub 2018 May 16.


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract, thought to at least in part reflect an aberrant immune response to gut bacteria. IBD is increasing in incidence, particularly in populations that have recently immigrated to western countries. This suggests that environmental factors are involved in its pathogenesis. We hypothesize that the increase in IBD rates might reflect the consumption of an unhealthy Western diet, containing excess calories and lacking in key nutritional factors, such as fibre and vitamin D. Several recent studies have determined that dietary factors can dramatically influence the activation of immune cells and the mediators they release through a process called immunonutrition. Moreover, dietary changes can profoundly affect the balance of beneficial versus pathogenic bacteria in the gut. This microbial imbalance can alter levels of microbiota-derived metabolites that in turn can influence innate and adaptive intestinal immune responses. If the diet-gut microbiome disease axis does indeed underpin much of the 'western' influence on the onset and progression of IBD, then tremendous opportunity exists for therapeutic changes in lifestyle, to modulate the gut microbiome and to correct immune imbalances in individuals with IBD. This review highlights four such therapeutic strategies - probiotics, prebiotics, vitamin D and caloric restriction - that have the potential to improve and add to current IBD treatment regimens.

Keywords: fasting; gut; immunonutrition; microbiome; prebiotics; probiotics; vitamin D.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / immunology*
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage


  • Vitamin D