IBD: Changes to Make to Reduce Inflammation

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Inflammatory Bowel Disease involves the chronic inflammation of part or all of your digestive tract. The subsequent GI symptoms, pain, fatigue and weight loss can greatly reduce a person's quality of life. While the exact cause of IBD is not known, there are many things that can contribute to overall inflammation in the body. Proper medical care and following a plan that helps to reduce inflammation may help reduce IBD symptoms.

Check out this list of worst pro-inflammatory offenders to see if you need to discuss some changes with your physician.** Sugar and refined carbohydrates**
Sugar and its cousin refined carbohydrates found in things like white bread and white rice can increase inflammation in the body faster than you can down that can of sugary soda. The surges in blood sugar and insulin levels associated with intake of these foods are part of what sets off the inflammatory process. New research also indicates that too much sugar or refined carbohydrates increases the body's levels of c-reactive protein- one measure of inflammation in the body. Conversely, when patients lowered their intake of these foods, the c-reactive protein levels also lowered. If you are dealing with IBD it would be wise to limit your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Unhealthy fats
Saturated fats, trans fats and too much omega 6 oil (found in corn, safflower, soybean and peanut oil) can all increase inflammation in the body. Try to limit these kind of fats as much as possible. Reducing your intake of processed foods can help as these fats are frequently found hiding in those types of foods. The body does need some fat to function properly so stick to healthy fats found in things like canola oil, extra virgin olive oil, fish, avocado and tree nuts.

If you have inflammation in the body or a condition like IBD, exercise may not be top on your list of things to do. It's hard to get motivated to work out when you feel wiped out. Unfortunately, inactivity will only compound the problem of inflammation in the body. Moderate exercise is key in decreasing the inflammation in the body. It can also work to decrease stress hormones which further reduces systemic inflammation. Talk with your physician and start slowly and build up to at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day.

Poor gut microbiome A poor gut microbiome, or an imbalance of good gut bacteria can play a role in inflammation in the body. In one study of Crohn's patients, those with less microbial diversity had greater inflammatory microbes and less anti-inflammatory ones present in the gut. These tips can help you keep your microbiome in balance:

  • Eat probiotic-rich foods, such as kefir or yogurt, every day.

  • Add prebiotic-rich foods to your diet to get the best results from the probiotics you consume. Some good sources of prebiotics include beans, artichoke, jicama, chickory root, raw oats, unrefined wheat or barley and [yacon].

  • Try to avoid using antibiotics unless necessary, and make sure you finish the course of treatment as directed by your physician. Replenish the good bacteria that may have been destroyed by the antibiotics with probiotics.

As most of us know, stress can do a ton of damage to the body when it isn't properly managed. If you have IBD stress can play a huge role in aggravating the inflammatory process. Recent studies have shown that stress, especially chronic stress, can interfere with the body's natural ability to regulate inflammation. In patients with chronic stress, cortisol levels increase, and pro-inflammatory makers like cytokines were also shown to increase.

Some ways to decrease your stress levels include: meditation, yoga, journaling or exercise. Try one of more of these tips to help keep stress from wreaking havoc on your IBD.

For additional tips to reduce inflammation naturally check out my Nutrition as Medicine series:

Nutrition as Medicine: Spice it up to Fight Inflammation
Nutrition as Medicine: Eat Colorful Produce
Nutrition as Medicine: Removing Sugary Foods
Nutrition as Medicine: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition. She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 13 years. Jennifer also serves on the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.