Over three million adults in the United States suffer some an inflammatory bowel disease, most often a condition simply called “Crohn’s Disease.” Modern medication cannot cure this illness, and medicine can only force it into remission in about 10% of cases. However, a recent case study may indicate a better way to get rid of the symptoms of this condition: a plant-based diet.

Crohn’s disease: Causes and symptoms

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease which usually affects the ileum, the very end of the small intestine, as well as the beginning of the large intestine (in rare cases, Crohn’s has been known to affect other areas of the gastrointestinal tract). Doctors are still uncertain of the exact causes behind Crohn’s disease. Some factors that may be part of the cause are heredity (children of parent’s with the condition are more likely to develop it), an immune system condition which inflames the bowel, and possible environmental conditions (exposure to bacteria, viruses, etc).

Sufferers of Crohn’s disease can have a variety of painful symptoms, including frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, reduced appetite, fevers, fatigue, weight loss, and more. These symptoms can occur at different levels of severity, and some of them can lead to life-threatening complications. Crohn’s is chronic, people with the condition may suffer from it the rest of their lives. However, while there is no cure, it is possible for the disease to go into remission and be symptomless for long periods.

Treatment for Crohn’s disease involves a variety of medications aimed at reducing the inflammation of the bowel and managing the patient’s symptoms. Anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors, antibiotics, and a variety of other medications can achieve long-term remission in about 10% of people with Crohn’s disease. Most patients will also require at least one surgery to remove a damaged part of the bowel, but not even this can cure the condition.

Hope in a vegetarian diet?

There is hope for an alternative treatment for Crohn’s disease, a way which may improve the chances of forcing the illness into remission and provide relief to patients. Doctors have long suspected that a diet which is high in fiber could provide relief from Crohn’s and other conditions which affect the intestines. Fiber feeds the normal, healthy bacteria which live in people’s intestines, as well as promoting gut health in other ways.

Plants, and especially whole foods, are the very best sources of fiber and thus stand the best chance of helping Crohn’s disease patients. Case studies have led doctors to believe a whole-food, vegetarian diet could induce remission of Crohn’s. Diet is obviously linked in very direct ways with the health of the gastrointestinal tract; a poor diet can lead to conditions such as Crohn’s disease, whereas a healthy diet can help prevent or treat them. Nutritional research has even shown that diets which contain a lot of animal products tend to result in a greater likelihood of inflammatory bowel conditions, providing further evidence that a vegetarian diet may be the best bet for Crohn’s patients.

Recent research has shown that a vegetarian diet may be key not only in inducing remission of Crohn’s disease but also in maintaining the remission long-term. Among patients who have Crohn’s in remission and keep eating a normal, omnivorous diet, about 25% of them will suffer symptoms again in less than two years. However, if a patient with Crohn’s in remission changes to a vegetarian diet, there is a 95% chance that the condition will stay in remission for more than two years! This evidence gives hope to people who suffer from this condition and want to manage it with dietary changes.