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Its Complicated: Fiber and Crohns Disease

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Fiber is a beneficial substance that helps the body eliminate unnecessary materials and keep the body functioning at efficient levels. However, many Crohn's patients find fiber painful to digest and the cause of flare-ups. A new study has found that a diet high in fruit fiber can actually reduce your chances of developing Crohn's and may help heal the disease as well. Find out more about the complicated issue below.

If you have Crohn’s disease, you have a complicated relationship with food. Certain foods are likely to trigger painful, exhausting flare-ups that are not only annoying but also damaging to your health. A person with CD spends most of their time identifying problem foods and “safe” foods to control flare-ups as much as possible.

A new study from 2013 has identified one source of fiber that could help prevent CD symptoms and even reduce a person’s chances of getting the disease in the first place. Read more about the new study as well as ways to improve your CD symptoms below.

Study Details

The study, published in the November 2013 issue of “Gastroenterology” analyzed data from over 170,000 women participating in a Nurses’ Health Study. The women were followed for the equivalent of over 3,000,000 years. Every four years, each woman filled out a food and diet questionnaire to ascertain dietary information.

Of the study participants, 269 women had Crohn's disease. Women who ate the highest amount of fruit fiber daily (an average of 24 grams daily) were the least likely to develop Crohn's and show symptoms. In fact, these women were 40 percent less likely to develop Crohn’s symptoms or have flare-ups at all. Fiber consumed from grains, legumes, and cereals did not impact a woman’s chances of developing the disease.

The researchers concluded that higher intakes of fiber, but mainly from fruit fiber, were associated with a lower risk of developing Crohn’s disease. The study did not examine if a diet high in fruit fiber would reduce flare-ups in existing Crohn’s patients- although it seems logical that similar benefits would be seen in Crohn’s patients.

The Complicated Role of Fiber in Crohn’s Disease

Fiber is a complicated issue among Crohn’s patients because it is both beneficial and harmful. Many Crohn’s patients are sensitive to fiber, which can lead to uncomfortable flare-ups and pain throughout life. However, as the Nurses’ Study shows, fiber from fruit can be beneficial in preventing Crohn’s flare-ups.

So, how does someone with Crohn’s balance getting enough beneficial fiber and keeping away from an ingredient that could contribute to flare-ups?

It’s not easy, but by monitoring your precise symptoms and reactions to fiber you can find the right balance of fiber consumption. The Nurses’ Study did not find any additional benefit from fiber that came from grains, legumes, or cereals, so staying away from these sources of fiber should be a top priority, particularly during a flare-up. Plant fibers could also make flare-ups worse, so you may want to avoid even fruit fiber when dealing with a flare-up.

However, between flare-ups, adding 24 grams of fruit fiber to the diet could help reduce your chances of future flare-ups. If you want to try adding more fruit fiber to your diet, start slowly. Adding too much at once could give you uncomfortable symptoms and pain. Start slowly by adding just a bit of extra fiber per day and gradually leading up to higher amounts. You may also have better results when eating cooked fruit.

Some Crohn’s patients report greater adverse effects when raw fruits and vegetables are eaten. Raw foods are harder for the intestines to digest, which could trigger a Crohn’s flare-up.

Eating for Crohn’s Disease

Studies have shown that certain ingredients are more beneficial in soothing Crohn’s symptoms than others. Studies from the 1990s uncovered that a specific type of diet, known as the Low Residue Diet, could provide ease of symptoms in patients with Crohn’s disease. The basic premise of the Low Residue Diet is that patients should consume foods that are easy to digest and that will not aggravate the intestines in any way.

Mainly, the diet consists of eating cooked, low-fiber foods that are non-spicy and contain none of the typical ingredients that make Crohn’s symptoms worse. Main aggravators include alcohol, raw food, dairy, and spicy ingredients.

Beneficial Ingredients

Fiber is not the only ingredient linked to a change in Crohn’s symptoms. There are also a variety of other beneficial ingredients that can help reduce the number of flare-ups as well as the frequency of episodes. You may find that ensuring your intake of the following foods is high can alleviate some of your Crohn’s symptoms:


Crohn’s disease can lead to intestinal bleeding, which causes a loss of hemoglobin that can lead to anemia. Many individuals with Crohn’s disease are deficient in iron due to the frequency of flare-ups. Have your iron levels tested by a medical professional to see if you need to supplement. Low iron levels are common, but too much iron in the body can also be detrimental. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America recommends most Crohn’s patients take between 8 and 27 mg of iron up to three times a day.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is absorbed in the lower part of the intestine known as the ileum. Crohn’s disease often interferes with this absorption, which means that many patients with Crohn’s disease are deficient in the vital vitamin. A vitamin B12 deficiency often appears as light-headedness, fatigue, anemia, and possibly numbness in the fingers and toes. If you have had part of your ileum removed, you may have to receive vitamin B12 shots to retain high enough levels of the vitamin.

Folic Acid

This acid, also known as vitamin B9 is essential for creating new cells. That is why it is one of the essential vitamins for pregnant women. However, it is also important for individuals with Crohn’s particularly if you have frequent flare-ups. Low levels of folic acid could contribute to digestive disorders and a greater number of flare-ups.

Magnesium and Potassium

Magnesium is an essential mineral for many processes of the body. Frequent episodes of Crohn’s disease can lead to an increased loss of minerals like magnesium and potassium. Supplementing with these minerals will ensure your levels remain optimal.


Individuals with Crohn’s disease are also often deficient in zinc. Zinc deficiencies can also lead to cases of diarrhea, which can create a vicious cycle of pain. In a study from 2011, the researchers found that children with Crohn’s were more likely to have low zinc levels than their healthy peers. A lack of zinc in the body can contribute to a compromised immune system.

Vitamin E and A

These two vitamins are essential for the repair and development of cells in the intestines. Many individuals with Crohn’s disease are deficient in these two vital vitamins. Adding these vitamins to your diet could ensure you heal effectively after flare-ups.

Betaine HCI

This form of hydrochloride acid is harvested from beets. The supplement is used to boost the digestive power of the stomach by adding extra acid to the stomach. This acid can be helpful for Crohn’s patients because it can help absorb additional nutrients- which is often a challenge for individuals with CD.


This essential amino acid is protective of intestinal health. The acid is used to reduce inflammation, help boost the absorption of nutrients, and reduce the effects of difficult-to-digest foods.

Cat's Claw

This herb can help soothe inflammation and heal irritated tissues in the intestines. As an added bonus, cat’s claw also boosts the immune system and fights off bacteria and viruses in the intestines. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with CD, who often have reduced immune systems.

Vitamin D

Studies show that nearly 70 percent of all patients with Crohn's disease have vitamin D deficiencies. This is because vitamin absorption is reduced and vitamin loss is greater in individuals suffering from CD. Daily supplementation with vitamin D3 can help prevent the side effects of vitamin D deficiencies.

What to Eat During Flare-Ups

If you have Crohn’s disease, you know the agony that eating trigger foods can cause. If you are currently dealing with a flare-up, add these foods to your diet to help ease your symptoms.

Fruits and Vegetables

The University of Maryland reports that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will reduce the severity of CD symptoms. Raw fruits could cause symptoms to be worse, so stick to cooked fruits and vegetables during flare-ups.


Fish contain high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce inflammation. Oily fish is the best for managing CD, reports the Cleveland Clinic. The most beneficial fish include herring, tuna, salmon, and sardines.


Yogurt is not only soothing to the stomach, but it contains beneficial bacteria that could help improve digestion and stop painful Crohn’s symptoms. According to the CCFA, probiotics can help the intestines heal faster during and after flare-ups. However, if you have difficulty digesting dairy, you may want to stay away from yogurt.


Potatoes have high levels of potassium and other vitamins and minerals that help maintain the balance of fluids in the body during CD flare-ups. If you do eat potatoes, avoid the skin, as the high fiber content could make symptoms worse.

What to Avoid During Flare-Ups

Certain foods can make CD symptoms worse and should be avoided. You may want to avoid these foods all the time, but if you are dealing with a current flare-up, they are particularly important to avoid:

CD Aggravating Foods
  • Alcohol Dairy
  • Legumes, beans, cabbage, onions, broccoli, and other gas-forming foods
  • High-fiber foods (other than cooked fruit and vegetables)
  • Caffeine
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Corn
  • Fried foods
  • Raw produce
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Red meat
  • Spicy food

Fiber and Crohn’s Disease

The role of fiber is extremely complicated in Crohn's Disease. On one hand, healthy fiber from fruit and vegetables can reduce flare-ups and even decrease your risk of developing Crohn’s in the first place. However, too much fiber and fiber from the wrong sources can definitely make CD much worse and more painful. As studies show, the best source of fiber to eat with CD comes from cooked vegetables and fruit. Adding this source of fiber to your diet while avoiding fiber from other sources could be part of a viable health plan to reduce the severity of CD symptoms and make flare-ups fewer and further apart.





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