International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders data shows that as much as 15% of the world’s population, including a staggering 45 million Americans, suffers from Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This condition encompasses both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Studies involving these gastrointestinal conditions have led researchers to determine that gluten sensitivity may exacerbate IBS symptoms.
So gluten and ulcerative colitis: How are they related?
The authors of a 2014 Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) study discovered that 65% of their ulcerative colitis patients that removed gluten from their diet experienced decreased gastrointestinal symptoms. At least 73% of IBS patients who adopted a gluten-free autoimmune diet as part of a study published in the Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology in 2019 went into remission within six weeks of doing so.
These research studies are two of many examples that suggest that a connection between gluten consumption and ulcerative colitis symptoms exists. This insight has motivated researchers to delve a bit deeper into diets that may aid patients in better regulating their IBD symptoms.
Is the Complete Elimination of Gluten Necessary?
A registered dietician with Cedars-Sinai’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center notes that her department recently carried out a study involving 1,647 IBD patients. At least two-thirds of those who adopted a gluten-free diet experienced a reduction in their gastrointestinal symptoms. Other study participants reported a decrease in flare-ups while in remission.
Fructan, a significant component of gluten-rich foods, has long been blamed by IBD researchers as the leading culprit of recurring or persistent gastrointestinal symptomology. Chinese researchers recently discovered that patients suffering from IBD experienced the opposite outcome.
Study participants removed fructan and other gluten-rich fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAP) foods from their diet before reintroducing them.
The Chinese researchers determined that IBS patients experienced marked improvement in their symptoms by continuing to consume fructan. Study authors ultimately concluded IBS patients might benefit from consuming less FODMAP foods than completely eliminating them from their diets.
A review of this study data led the Cedars-Sinai dietician to conclude that some individuals with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease may be able to continue consuming limited amounts of gluten provided that they haven’t also received a celiac disease diagnosis.
She notes that, even then, IBD patients should adopt a balanced diet ideal for gut health. It may require IBS sufferers to take time to learn how their body responds to certain foods and amounts of them to learn how it affects their health.
What Other Foods May Exacerbate Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms?
Evidence suggests that at least some amount of gluten may contribute to IBD flare-ups. There are other foods that researchers suspect may also adversely impact ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease patients, including:
- Fatty foods (especially red meat and oils)
- Dairy products
- Spicy foods
- Seeds and nuts
There is overwhelming research to suggest that gluten, the food products listed above and the size of an IBS sufferer’s meals may worsen their condition. So too may a lack of adoption of a regular exercise regimen and stress-reduction measures.
Determining if Gluten is Making Your Ulcerative Colitis Worse
If you consume a diet that consists of foods known to aggravate ulcerative colitis, then you might consider discussing removing them from your diet with your medical team. This may be an effective non-medicinal approach to improving your condition.