“What did I do?” you might ask. “I must have done something wrong. Why did it happen? Did I eat too much red meat? I smoked … I got this disease.”
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A lot of people who have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis feel they brought it on themselves.
But it’s time to stop blaming yourself, says Miguel Regueiro, MD, Chair of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.
“It’s really not that easy,” Dr. Regueiro explains. “It’s never something where somebody comes in and I say, ‘Oh, only if you didn’t do this. You wouldn’t have gotten it.’ But that misperception’s there.”
What really matters now
You can’t change your diagnosis. But you aren’t powerless, Dr. Regueiro says.
“A healthy lifestyle probably does help once you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis,” he says. “Maybe it will help lessen the inflammation, though there is nothing you did to bring it on.”
Dr. Regueiro notes that in approximately 20% of those with IBD, there’s a genetic component to their disease — so it can run in families. But, IBD isn’t only genetic.
“The majority of the time, it’s not literally your mother and father’s fault,” he says.
The lifestyle changes you should make now
If you smoke and have IBD, especially Crohn’s disease, stop smoking. (Of course, no one should smoke). Quitting smoking won’t make your IBD go away, Dr. Regueiro says. “But it will lessen the inflammation, lessen your need for surgery, lessen recurrence if you have surgery (especially in Crohn’s disease), and lessen the likelihood IBD will come back after you are in remission,” he says.
What’s the one biggest change you can make now to help your disease going forward? “It’s like anything, live a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, and get proper sleep every night. In terms of diet, eliminating most simple carbohydrates from your diet may help,” he advises. “Even starting with processed foods, fast foods — get rid of that. And get rid of processed sugar, such as sodas and candies.
“That doesn’t mean the disease goes away. There are some people who feel that happens — and maybe there are some patients where that happens. But in general, a healthy lifestyle leads to only good things and the inflammation may actually get better. I’ve seen many of my patients significantly improve by eating healthier.”
What’s the best diet for your IBD?
The reason IBD is increasing exponentially over time isn’t genetics. “That would take thousands of years to see the increase in IBD we’ve seen in the last few decades,” Dr. Regueiro says. “Unfortunately, it’s the environment and likely has to do with changes in the microbiome related to diet.
“The microbiome changes probably have a lot to do with carbohydrates, processed foods, emulsifiers — they’re the kind of things that lead to this proinflammatory state.”
Dr. Regueiro doesn’t endorse only one diet for IBD, but says when his patients follow a specific carbohydrate diet or Mediterranean diet, and eat clean foods that eliminate processed foods, he actually sees them improve.
“I can’t say they get 100% better, but they do get better,” he says. “I think some of them even need less medication because of it.”