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Should You Follow a Macrobiotic Diet For Crohn’s Disease?

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There are many diet options available for Crohn's disease. The Macrobiotic diet eliminates many common trigger foods, and there is some evidence that it can be effective in treating Crohn's. Find out more about this potential treatment method below.

Crohn’s disease is a painful condition of the intestines where the intestines suddenly rebel, causing painful stomach pain, cramps, diarrhea, and burring. Crohn’s flare-ups can strike at any time, which makes it difficult to lead a normal life with the disease. Currently, there is no known cause of the disease, but recent studies have outlined definite triggers that can lead to painful flare-ups.

According to several studies, the principles behind a macrobiotic diet may be the key to avoiding Crohn’s symptoms and painful flare-ups on a day to day basis. A macrobiotic diet eliminates most of the known trigger foods for Crohn’s and adds a variety of beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fiber sources that have been shown to reduce painful Crohn’s flare-ups and side effects.

Find out more about this radical treatment method for Crohn’s disease, additional beneficial supplements, and how to implement this treatment plan in your life below.

What is A Macrobiotic Diet?

A macrobiotic diet is simply a dietary approach that is based on the idea that the health of the body is influenced by its total environment, including foods, lifestyle, social interactions, and even physical location. The theory behind the macrobiotic diet is that when the body is sick, such as with Crohn’s Disease, that the body is trying to send a message that it needs to return to a better diet, lifestyle, or both.

The first use of the diet was in 1797 by Doctor Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland. In the late 1800s, Japanese doctor Sagen Ishizuka used the principles of the macrobiotic diet to help patients recover from numerous diseases. The basic premise of the macrobiotic diet includes eating a diet high in fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, eating frequent meals, and maintaining an active and positive lifestyle.

The Macrobiotic Diet Overview

The macrobiotic diet features a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and soup. The basic diet looks something like this:

Whole Grains 40 to 60 percent of dietary intake

Grains include brown rice, oats, corn, rye, wheat, buckwheat, millet, and barley. Un-yeasted bread is also recommended.

Vegetables 20 to 30 percent of dietary intake

Vegetables include cabbage, kale, broccoli, collard greens, watercress, parsley, carrots, squash, onions, mustard greens, bok choy, cucumber, celery, lettuce, herbs. Limit tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, spinach, beets, potatoes, and zucchini.

Beans and Seaweed 5 to 10 percent of dietary intake

Beans include azuki, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, natto, and tempeh. Seaweeds include nori, wakame, arame, dulse, agar-agar, kombu, and hijiki.

Foods to Use Sparingly
  • Fish such as cod, sole, carp, trout, and flounder
  • Fruit and fruit desserts (up to 3 times a week)
  • Peanuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds
  • Sweeteners made from rice or barley malt
  • Rice vinegar

Foods to Avoid
  • Meat
  • Animal fats
  • Dairy
  • Refined sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Fruit juice
  • Soda
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Processed foods
  • Spicy foods

Lifestyle Tips
  • Eat when hungry
  • Chew food well
  • Drink to thirst
  • Exercise frequently
  • Spend time outside
  • Stay positive

How Can Macrobiotics Help Crohn’s Disease?

Several of the foods eliminated from the macrobiotic diet have been shown to trigger attacks of Crohn's disease. For example, spicy foods, fatty foods, sugar, and processed foods have all been shown to make Crohn’s symptoms worse, as outlined in the studies below.

Additionally, a diet high in fiber has been linked to a reduced number of Crohn’s flare-ups, according to a recent study published in Gastroenterology Journal. A diet rich in nutrients including magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, and other vitamins and minerals may also benefit Crohn’s sufferers. The macrobiotic diet is also rich in these helpful nutrients.

Crohn’s Disease Studies

The studies below offer insight into how a macrobiotic diet could be beneficial in fighting Crohn’s symptoms.

In a 1992 study from Sweden published in Medical Tribune, it was shown that a diet high in sugar and fat could increase a person’s chances of getting Crohn’s disease. The researchers interviewed 152 people with Crohn’s disease and found that individuals who ate fast food two or more times a week were 3.4 times more likely to develop Crohn’s disease.

A 1995 study from Japan looked at the difference between cultural diets in patients with ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease similar to Crohn’s disease). The researchers found that a traditional Japanese diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and seaweed, provided fewer flare-ups than a diet with traditionally American foods, including cheese, meat, butter, bread, and margarine.

A 1999 study conducted by Canadian researchers and published in Nutrition and Health Journal looked at the effects of various foods on individuals with Crohn’s disease. The researchers found that individuals with a diet high in fats, artificial sweeteners, dairy, and chocolate had the most frequent and painful symptoms.

A study conducted in 2000 by the National Animal Health Monitoring System looked at the role of dairy in Crohn’s disease. The researchers found that 22 percent of American cows carry a mycobacterium that can lead to Johne’s disease in cows, which shows remarkable symptoms to Crohn’s disease. Researchers also found that Crohn’s disease is only found in dairy-consuming societies. The researchers hypothesized that this bacteria (which cannot be removed through normal pasteurization) may be responsible for causing Crohn’s disease in some individuals.

A 2013 study published in Gastroenterology Journal conducted by Harvard Medical School looked at a study of 269 women with Crohn’s disease. The researchers found that a diet high in fiber contributed to a 40 percent reduction in Crohn’s symptoms. Women had to take in an average of 24.3 grams of fiber each day to receive the benefit against Crohn’s disease. The researchers also found that the greatest fiber benefit came from fruit sources.

Crohn’s Vitamin and Mineral Studies

The following studies look at the role of the vitamins and minerals in the macrobiotic diet and how they can benefit Crohn’s sufferers:

Folic Acid

Folic acid, or folate, is an essential mineral for everyone, but it seems particularly important for Crohn’s patients. According to a 1994 study published in the journal Digestion, about one-quarter of Crohn’s patients have trouble absorbing folic acid and folate. According to the study, supplementing with folic acid can reduce the side effects of the disease.

Vitamin A

Several studies have looked at the role of Vitamin A in Crohn’s disease. One notable study from 1980 looked at the benefits of supplementing with vitamin A in Crohn’s patients. Researchers found that supplementing with high doses of vitamin A could heal intestinal permeability and stop diarrhea in Crohn’s patients.

Vitamin B12

A 1997 study published in the British Medical Journal looked at 150 patients with Crohn’s disease. The researchers found that many of the patients suffered from a lack of vitamin B12 in their blood. Supplementing with vitamin B12 may help reduce painful symptoms of the disease.

Magnesium and Zinc

A 1990 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Immunology looked at the level of zinc and magnesium in Crohn’s patients. The researchers found that most Crohn’s patients are deficient in zinc and magnesium. The researchers did not discover, however, whether low magnesium and zinc levels cause Crohn’s disease or are a simple side effect of the disease. Zinc and magnesium are two essential minerals for overall health, and supplementing to replace the missing nutrients are essential for the health of any Crohn’s patient.

More Helpful Supplements

A few herbal supplements can also help soothe the intestines and stomach lining and make painful Crohn’s flare-ups less painful and less frequent. The following three supplements are beneficial in soothing the stomach and intestinal linings and healing Crohn’s disease:

Cat’s Claw

In a 1985 study from Germany, cat’s claw was shown to boost the immune system, remove harmful invaders from the stomach, soothe the stomach lining, and reduce overall inflammation.


Licorice can provide soothing relief to an irritated stomach. According to the National Institute of Health, licorice is helpful at reducing inflammation in the stomach and intestines.


L-glutamine is an amino acid that is beneficial in fighting Crohn’s symptoms. One of the main functions of this amino acid is to protect the health of the stomach and intestinal lining. A 1999 study published in Parenteral Enteral Nutrition discovered that supplementing with l-glutamine can reduce Crohn’s disease activity and reduce overall inflammation in the intestines.

Using a Macrobiotic Diet with Crohn’s

A macrobiotic diet is an intensive treatment method for Crohn’s disease. There is a variety of scientific evidence that supports the idea of a macrobiotic diet to help heal Crohn’s disease. A diet rich in fiber and vitamins like vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, folic acid, iron, vitamin E, and vitamin D can be beneficial in preventing Crohn’s flare-ups. Avoiding trigger foods, like spices, alcohol, fats, and meat will also provide benefits.

Additional supplements, such as cat’s claw, licorice, and l-glutamine will complete any Crohn’s-fighting diet and supplement routine. Although this diet and supplement plan is somewhat intensive, it could be the key to preventing painful Crohn’s symptoms and healing the intestines forever.




Michio Kushi and Alex Jack. The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health: A Complete Guide to Preventing and Relieving More Than 200 Chronic Conditions and Disorders

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