Specific Carbohydrate Diet Shows Promise in Treating Pediatric IBD

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional
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Many diets claim to cure inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but most cannot back up their claims with facts. One diet that has shown real promise, especially in pediatric patients, is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). The diet was developed by biochemist Elaine Gottschall, MS.c., and detailed in her book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet. Gottschall’s theory is that when you remove carbohydrates that are difficult to digest and that inhibit good bacteria, you allow the gut to heal.

small study led by David L. Suskind, M.D., published in December of 2016 in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, shows the SCD diet alone brought pediatric patients with active Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) into clinical remission. In the study, 12 patients, ages 10 to 17, were put on the SCD diet for a total of 12 weeks. For two of the patients, the dietary therapy was ineffective and two more could not keep up with the strict aspect of the diet. But for the remaining 10 pediatric patients, clinical improvements were seen and measured through stool microbiome analysis and blood samples, including C-reactive protein measurements.

While the study shows great promise, it was based on too small a population to extrapolate the results into general recommendations. More studies are needed to determine if the diet is as effective in larger clinical trials.

The restrictive nature of the diet is also one of the downsides — as illustrated when two of this study’s participants were unable to complete the 12 weeks required. A diet of this nature could possibly lead to deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, iron, calcium, and potassium. Nutritional deficiencies are especially worrisome in pediatric patients because of their potential to affect long-term growth.

Children diagnosed with IBD are already at a higher risk for a nutritional deficit to begin with, so special steps may be needed to prevent any deficiencies. Blood tests can monitor for deficiencies and supplementation may be used as needed or as determined by a physician. Finally, enlisting the help of a dietitian while on the SCD can be important to help gain the most nutritive value from every meal plan.

Please remember to talk with your doctor before making any changes to your child’s treatment plan.

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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 12 years.Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).