Mediterranean Style Diet and Specific Carbohydrate Diet™ Can Improve Symptoms of Patients with Crohn’s Disease

New results from study funded by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation offers groundbreaking evidence of the influence of diet on Crohn’s disease symptoms

New York, NY – For Crohn’s disease patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms, a Mediterranean style diet and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet™ appear to improve symptoms and quality of life, according to a new study published in Gastroenterology and funded by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). Led by James Lewis, MD, MSCE, from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the Diet to INducE Remission in Crohn’s Disease (DINE-CD) study also found that both diets can be used to reduce fatigue, pain, sleep disturbance, and social isolation. This study is the first large-scale, randomized trial in the U.S. showing that diet can significantly benefit adult patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

Researchers compared the effectiveness of a Mediterranean style diet to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet™ in nearly 200 Crohn’s disease patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms on stable doses of medications. With both diets, nearly half of the patients experienced resolution of their symptoms. After six weeks, 43.5% of patients following a Mediterranean style diet and 46.5% of patients following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet™ achieved symptomatic remission.

While the Specific Carbohydrate Diet™ has typically been popular among IBD patients, public health experts often recommend a Mediterranean style diet because it has a variety of other health benefits. Researchers from the DINE-CD study also note that it is easier to follow than Specific Carbohydrate Diet™. The diets involve:

  • The Mediterranean style diet is characterized by a high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, seafood, whole grains, and olive oil, and a low intake of red and processed meats as well as sweets.
  • The Specific Carbohydrate Diet™ is characterized by a high intake of unprocessed meats, poultry, fish, and most fruits and vegetables with restrictions on grains, dairy, and sweeteners, apart from some cheeses, yogurt, and honey. 

“The goal of this study was to produce actionable recommendations for Crohn’s disease patients looking for answers about what to eat to feel better,” said Dr. James Lewis, MD, MSCE, a professor of Medicine and Epidemiology in Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a principal investigator of DINE-CD. “We already knew a Mediterranean style diet was beneficial across several disease states; now, Crohn’s disease patients are equipped to incorporate the diet into their life as well. For patients who prefer the more structured Specific Carbohydrate Diet™, it too appears to be a reasonable option. This research opens the door to more tailored dietary recommendations and additional research into how best to leverage diet to improve the quality of life for patients with Crohn’s disease.” 

IBD patients have intuited that their diet plays a role in managing their disease, but very few clinical trials have confirmed the connection between disease and diet. Patients like Jessica Burris and Andrea Meyer, who proposed the idea behind DINE-CD, are often left to figure out which foods trigger their symptoms through trial and error. Through the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s patient-powered research network, IBD Partners, patients worked closely with researchers every step of the way, not only helping to construct the study idea but also sitting on the research team. 

“The DINE-CD findings are a major step forward in addressing a pressing patient need and answering a question that medical providers hear all the time: ‘what should I eat?’” said Michael Osso, President & CEO of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. “This is only the beginning of many more discoveries about how diet and nutrition can play a role in improving quality of life for IBD patients. From this broad dietary guidance to our Precision Nutrition initiative, the Foundation is committed to delivering every possible solution to treat and manage Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis using every tool at our disposal.” 

Additional funding for the DINE-CD study was provided by the Flora L. Thornton Foundation and from Dr. Lewis’ 2016 Sherman Prize.

Click here to read the full study in Gastroenterology.

Crohn's & Colitis Foundation

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization focused on both research and patient support for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), with the mission of curing Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and improving the quality of life for the millions of Americans living with IBD. The Foundation’s work is dramatically accelerating the research process, while also providing extensive educational and support resources for patients and their families, medical professionals, and the public.