Novel Diet Shows Promise in Treating Children With Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

Study results show pediatric patients with active Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can reach remission with diet alone.

In a first-of-its-kind study published today in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, researchers from Seattle Children’s and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, led by Dr. David Suskind, a Seattle Children’s gastroenterologist, found that diet alone can bring pediatric patients with active Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) into clinical remission.

In the small, prospective study, patients were put on a special diet called the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) for 12 weeks as the sole intervention to treat their active Crohn’s or UC. SCD is a nutritionally balanced diet that removes grains, dairy, processed foods and sugars, except for honey. The diet promotes only natural, nutrient-rich foods, which includes vegetables, fruits, meats and nuts.

At the end of the 12 weeks, eight out of the 10 patients who finished the study showed significant improvement and achieved remission from the dietary treatment alone.

“This changes the paradigm for how we may choose to treat children with inflammatory bowel disease,” said Suskind.

To date, there have only been a few case reports where a whole food diet, like SCD, has been used as a potential treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). This study is the first to show, not just anecdotally, that the diet is safe and effective in treating pediatric patients with IBD.

IBD refers to several related illnesses that affect the digestive tract. Crohn's and UC are two forms of IBD.

“For decades or longer, medicine has said diet doesn’t matter, that it doesn’t impact disease,” said Suskind. “Now we know that diet does have an impact, a strong impact. It works, and now there’s evidence that it can move patients into remission.”

At most centers across the country, treatment for IBD is usually limited to either treating patients with medications or steroids, which can often lead to life-long side effects. Another concern with these traditional treatments is that they only suppress the immune system, which doesn’t treat the underlying issue of the microbiome, the bacteria that lives in the digestive tract. Researchers believe that IBD occurs when something goes awry between a person’s genetic makeup, their immune system and their microbiome.

“Each person’s disease is unique, just as each person is unique,” said Suskind. “SCD is another tool in our tool box 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.”

To learn more about SCD or to contact the Gastroenterology and Hepatology team at Seattle Children’s for a second opinion, please call 206-987-2521.

To read about Adelynne’s SCD journey, visit Seattle Children’s On the Pulse blog.

About Seattle Children’s

Seattle Children’s mission is to provide hope, care and cures to help every child live the healthiest and most fulfilling life possible. Together, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Research Institute and Foundation deliver superior patient care, identify new discoveries and treatments through pediatric research, and raise funds to create better futures for patients.

Ranked as one of the top five children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical center for Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho – the largest region of any children’s hospital in the country. As one of the nation's top five pediatric research centers, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is internationally recognized for its work in neurosciences, immunology, cancer, infectious disease, injury prevention and much more. Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation works with the Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association, the largest all-volunteer fundraising network for any hospital in the country, to gather community support and raise funds for uncompensated care and research.

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