Diet and nutrition are important aspects of inflammatory bowel disease. Unfortunately, we lack the scientific evidence to make specific recommendations. Unless a person with inflammatory bowel disease has a specific condition, such as a stricture (bowel blockage), we recommend a general healthy diet without any specific foods to avoid. There is little proof to recommend avoiding dairy products unless a person is in the midst of a flare of symptoms for their inflammatory bowel disease.

Diet as Treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

There is evidence that diet may help inflammatory bowel disease. There is ongoing research on the use of dietary components to treat IBD.

Enteral Therapy. Enteral therapy is the use of specialized liquid diets. Enteral therapy has been shown to improve IBD symptoms almost as well as prednisone in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, patients must adhere to a very strict diet and cannot eat any other food products while on enteral therapy. Also, they do not taste good, and patients often require feeding tubes to continue on therapy.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil). Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) are a popular supplement for many diseases including IBD. Unfortunately, two large studies have shown they are no better than placebo to treat symptoms of ulcerative colitis.

Other Nutritional Supplements. Fiber, curcumin, aloe vera, wormwood, frankincense, and wheat grass have been studied to treat inflammatory bowel disease with mixed results. There is not enough information currently for us to recommend any of these supplements to treat ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. If you choose to try these supplements, it is important for you to inform your doctor as some have been associated with side effects and laboratory abnormalities. 

Recent Lectures

Baylor College of Medicine Department of Medicine Grand Rounds by Jason K. Hou, M.D. View Diet, Nutrition and Inflammatory Bowel Disease presentation.

Related Publications

Hou JK, Abraham B, El-Serag H.  Dietary intake and risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease: a systematic review of the literature. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011 Apr;106(4):563-73.