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Are you really what you eat?

Food is a touchy subject for people with Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. These diseases are so  diverse, it's difficult to pinpoint problematic food. Some of us cannot eat leafy greens. Others cannot eat meat. Most of us, when we find our safe foods, will eat the same things over and over and over again. It usually isn't the most healthy as far as nutrition goes, but when it comes to the pain and suffering we experience, we'd rather deal with nutritional deficiency.

I get frustrated when people send me a list of foods that are not good for inflammation. Or an article telling me that meats may contribute to IBD. Meat and potatoes are my "safe" foods. I may not have always eaten the healthiest foods, but I didn't live off of candy and burgers. For the most part, I cooked all my own food and prepared my own meals.

All that being said, you should obviously always eat as healthy as possibly. Having a chronic illness makes it difficult to keep your vitamin levels up. Sadly, in my case, the healthiest foods always wreaked havoc with my colon. Which makes one ask, are you really what you eat?
Doctor  Peter Higgins is an IBD research doctor at the University of Michigan (awesome doctor; you should follow him if you don't already!). He has been studying the microbiota of Ulcerative Colitis patients. He says, "There is very little evidence that diet makes IBD more likely, and very little evidence that diet affects flares."

TWEET THIS: There is very little evidence that diet makes #IBD more likely. @ibddoctor

Rennie, an awesome lady I've gotten to know says, "I live a healthy lifestyle."

"I'm pretty much a freak about organic/natural products, whether it's food, cleaning supplies, or beauty products." She laughs. Rennie has Ulcerative Colitis and was eating healthy foods even before her diagnosis in 2011. "I've eaten healthy since about 2007."

Rennie, like so many others tried everything she could to keep her colon. "I tried everything natural I could. Strict SCD, supplements of every kind, etc." But in the end, she lost her colon in September of 2012. "UC progressed crazy fast. My GI was very upfront and told me that the UC was so bad he only gave the meds 15% shot at helping me."

Her story is not unusual. Many people with IBD lived healthy lifestyles before IBD hit. I myself was a brown belt. I went to class twice a week and practiced any other chance I had. I ate a lot of sandwiches, chicken, eggs, salads, etc. And I rarely, RARELY drank a soda.

When asked about food as it relates to Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, Dr. Petter Higgins says, "Food can make symptoms worse, especially by feeding bacteria, generating gas." However, he also points out that food, "Does not appear to worsen inflammation."

TWEET THIS: Food does not appear to worsen inflammation. @ibddoctor #IBD

"We know the function of about half of the genes associated with IBD. The overwhelming majority have something to do with human cells reacting to bacteria, trying to defend themselves against bacteria, or trying to eat bacteria. This is why scientists and physicians in the field are so interested in the microbiota of the gut, and how the gut immune system reacts to it."

In his research, Dr. Higgins says that they have not found much in regards to the stress and food triggering IBD. He says while lack of sleep and stress hormones can worsen symptoms, it does not appear to be the cause.

However, he does explain that what we eat might be the reason the bacteria is affected. Dr. Higgins also notes that dietary can help ease symptoms. "The low FODMAP diet has been shown to reduce gas, bloating and discomfort without changing inflammation very much."

While Dr. Higgins and IBD patients all agree that food does not appear to cause IBD, Dr. Higgins observes the notion that "Westernization" may be a factor. 

"There is something about 'Westernization' that increases IBD incidence. It could be air pollution, car exhaust, lack of parasites/worms, the use of antibacterial soaps, drinking high-fructose corn syrup, or any one of the things that go along with westernization, or maybe a combination of these." 

He also adds that the incidence of IBD is rising quickly in China, where it was unknown in the 1970s. 

I know that there are many who have found relief through diet changes--which is awesome and I'm completely jealous. I'm not saying that we should load up on junk food. If you're able to, you should eat as healthy as possible. I do believe that there are external environmental factors that play a role, but in my research and experience, food does not cause Crohn's or Colitis. 

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