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Can a Gluten-Free Diet Help Crohn's Disease?

By Jessica Bruso

A gluten-free diet contains no wheat, barley or rye. Gluten is a protein that causes serious side effects for people with celiac disease. Some people are sensitive to gluten, and, for these people, limiting or removing gluten from their diet may be beneficial. However, a gluten-free diet might not be helpful for those with Crohn's disease.

Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease is an autoimmune disorder where your body's immune system incorrectly decides that substances, including foods and bacteria, are foreign substances, causing inflammation and thickening of the intestinal wall. It is a type of inflammatory bowel disease characterized by flare ups alternating with symptom-free periods. Unlike celiac disease, where a specific protein, gluten, causes an immune response in Crohn's disease, doctors have not found a specific substance that causes problems for all people with the disease.

Crohn's Disease and Diet

With Crohn's disease, not all people react to the same foods the same way. There is no specific diet, such as the gluten-free diet, that helps everyone with this condition. Keeping a food diary can help pinpoint foods that cause a problem for you. In general, people with Crohn's disease should eat a healthy diet including sufficient protein, vitamins, minerals and calories. Some people find the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which limits carbohydrates that are more difficult to digest, helpful in minimizing symptoms, but there is no scientific evidence to back up its use, according to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.

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Crohn's Disease Treatment

During bad flare ups, you may need to go on a low-fiber, low-residue diet or get nutritional support through the use of a feeding tube. Your doctor may prescribe medications during Crohn's flare ups, including medications for diarrhea, inflammation and immune function. Antibiotics and corticosteroids may also help minimize problems with Crohn's disease. If medications do not work, you may need to have bowel surgery to remove sections of the intestines that are badly damaged.

Considerations

You can try a gluten-free diet to see if it helps to minimize your Crohn's disease symptoms, but this diet can be difficult to follow. If not well planned, you may end up with nutritional deficiencies, especially as people with Crohn's disease are already at higher risk for these deficiencies.

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