A Seattle Children’s Hospital gastroenterologist has documented that diet alone can help some pediatric patients with active Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) move into clinical remission.
The results of the study, “Clinical and Fecal Microbial Changes with Diet Therapy in Active Inflammatory Bowel Disease” by Dr. David Suskind, were published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology.
“This changes the paradigm for how we may choose to treat children with inflammatory bowel disease,” Suskind said in a press release.
In his study, Suskind put patients on a diet therapy called “specific carbohydrate diet” (SCD) for 12 weeks as the only treatment for their Crohn’s or UC. SCD is designed to balance nutrition by removing grains, dairy, processed foods, and sugars, except honey. Patients who adopt the diet are to eat only natural, nutrient-rich foods, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, and some meats.
At the end of the study, eight of the 10 patients who completed the program showed significant improvement and went into remission.
“Stool microbiome analysis showed a distinctive dysbiosis for each individual in most prediet microbiomes,” the researchers wrote, “with significant changes in microbial composition after dietary change.”
Treatment for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s and UC usually is limited to two options: steroids or medication. Both can lead to lifelong side effects and suppress the immune system, while not treating the underlying issue of the microbiome (the bacteria that live in our digestive tract). In most people, the bacteria are harmless; however, in people with IBD, the microbiome can cause the immune system to attack the bowel. Doctors don’t know why this happens.
Suskind was convinced the answer could lie in patients’ diets, and he began researching the SCD diet.
“For decades or longer, medicine has said diet doesn’t matter, that it doesn’t impact disease,” Suskind said. “Now we know that diet does have an impact, a strong impact. It works, and now there’s evidence.”
Suskind’s study is the first to demonstrate, not just anecdotally, that the diet is safe and effective.
“Each person’s disease is unique, just as each person is unique,” Suskind said. “SCD is another tool in our tool belt to help treat these patients. It may not be the best treatment option for everyone, but it is an effective treatment for those who wish to try a dietary therapy.”
Seattle Children’s offers therapies that other centers across the United States do not, including exclusive enteral nutrition (EEN) and SCD.
Among Suskind’s patients, identified in the release, was Adelynne Kittelson. The girl was 8 years old when she was admitted to Seattle Children’s, where she met Suskind and was diagnosed with Crohn’s. She has been in remission since adopting the SCD diet two years ago.
“I can’t believe how far we’ve come. When we first walked into Seattle Children’s, she was an 8-year-old girl who was barely heavier than our 4-year-old. Now, she’s growing and foods are no longer an enemy,” said Adelynne’s mother, Nicole Kittelson.
The family has embraced shopping for natural, locally-produced, nutrient-rich foods. The diet is now part of their lives.
“Her lunch doesn’t look much different than other kids at school,” Kittelson said. “There are so many options out there. We haven’t felt like we’ve had to sacrifice. We’ve even adjusted holiday traditions to fit into our new lifestyle. Instead of candy for special occasions, we swap them for other things.”
For Adelynne, SCD was the right treatment option and helped her get back to a normal life without long-term side effects. She now loves food again, too.