Crohn's Disease: The Role of Fats in Your Gut Health

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Scientists have devoted many hours of research into how the microbiome plays a role in the inflammation of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease. While many studies suggest a connection between the two, we still have no cut-and-dry guidelines for people living with IBD to follow. But 2017 research honed in on the role fat may play in gut health.

Research on fats and inflammation

Alexander Rodriguez-Palacios, D.V.M., D.V.Sc., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, reported at the 2017 annual Digestive Disease Week Conference in Chicago on the role of a high-fat diet in reducing gut inflammation in Crohn’s disease. The groundbreaking study was conducted by Case Western researchers on mice with Crohn’s-like disease, by comparing fats found in plants with mice that were fed the fats found in animals. Changes were measured in both the feces and intestine, which showed that the plant fats, specifically coconut oil or cocoa butter, reduced inflammation, while the animal fats did not.

What this means for people with Crohn’s

So, what does this actually mean for people with Crohn’s disease and other forms of IBD? The good news is that most science also supports the fact that certain plant fats are very healthy for the human body in general. Avocado, nuts, nut butters, olive oil, coconut oil, and seeds are all sources of healthy plant-based fats. The standard American diet is full of animal fats, so substituting in some plant-based fats could be a good way to incorporate this new science into your daily life.

Remember: We are not adding more fat to our diets, but replacing one type of fat with another. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10 percent of our total calories come from saturated fat, which comes from animal sources. Replace saturated fat with heart-healthy, plant-based fat sources.

In the future, we may find that specific plant fats, probiotics, or other foods may be recommended to reduce gut inflammation, but we are not there yet.

For now, incorporating whole foods, foods rich in probiotics, fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors, and healthy fats are great for the human body, especially when you are fighting a disease with inflammation.

Talk with your doctor and create a food journal to better determine what specific foods you can tolerate while you are well, and while you are dealing with a flare up.

See more helpful articles:

10 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Crohn’s

Is Your Crohn’s Treatment Working?

Sleep and Diet Changes May Help IBD Patients