Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract. IBD includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies due to inflammation and malabsorption. In this guide, we will discuss the nutrients IBD patients need and how to get them through diet and supplementation.
What Causes Nutrient Deficiencies in IBD Patients?
IBD patients can become nutrient deficient due to the following reasons:
- Malabsorption: IBD patients may not absorb nutrients properly due to damage to the intestinal lining. This can cause deficiencies in vitamins and minerals such as B12, iron, calcium, and magnesium.
- Inflammation: The inflammation caused by IBD can lead to loss of appetite and decreased absorption of nutrients.
- Medications: Some medications used to treat IBD can affect nutrient absorption, such as corticosteroids, antibiotics, and immunosuppressants.
- Surgery: IBD patients who have had surgery to remove parts of their intestine may have difficulty absorbing certain nutrients.
Common Nutrient Deficits in IBD Patients:
IBD patients are at risk for several nutrient deficiencies due to the inflammation and malabsorption associated with the condition. The most common nutrient deficits in IBD patients include:
- Iron: IBD patients may develop anemia due to decreased iron absorption and chronic blood loss. Iron deficiency anemia can cause fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.
- Vitamin D: IBD patients may have decreased absorption of vitamin D, which can lead to decreased bone density and an increased risk of fractures.
- Calcium: IBD patients may have difficulty absorbing calcium, which can lead to decreased bone density and an increased risk of fractures.
- Vitamin B12: IBD patients may have decreased absorption of vitamin B12, which can cause anemia, fatigue, and nerve damage.
- Folate: IBD patients may have decreased absorption of folate, which can cause anemia, fatigue, and an increased risk of birth defects in pregnant women.
Consequences of Nutrient Deficiencies:
If left untreated, nutrient deficiencies can lead to a range of complications in IBD patients.
Iron deficiency anemia can cause fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath, which can interfere with daily activities and reduce quality of life.
Decreased bone density can lead to an increased risk of fractures, which can be particularly concerning for older IBD patients.
Nerve damage due to vitamin B12 deficiency can cause tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, and can interfere with balance and coordination.
Folate deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, and an increased risk of birth defects in pregnant women.
Because of these complications, it’s critical that patients with IBD take the proper steps to ensure they are eating the right foods and supplements to get the nutrients they need.
How Common Are Nutrient Deficits in IBD Patients?
Nutrient deficiencies are common in IBD patients, with up to 85% of patients experiencing at least one deficiency.1 Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutrient deficiency in IBD patients, with up to 70% of patients affected.2 Other common nutrient deficits in IBD patients include vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B12, and folate.
How to Avoid Nutrient Deficiencies in IBD Patients?
IBD patients can avoid nutrient deficiencies by:
- Working with a Registered Dietitian: A Registered Dietitian can help IBD patients create a personalized meal plan that meets their nutritional needs.
- Taking Supplements: Supplements can help IBD patients meet their daily nutrient needs. Supplements such as multivitamins, iron, calcium, and vitamin D can help prevent deficiencies.
- Monitoring Symptoms: IBD patients should monitor their symptoms and report any changes to their healthcare provider. Nutrient deficiencies can cause symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and decreased appetite.
- Eating a Balanced Diet: Eating a balanced diet can help IBD patients meet their nutritional needs. A balanced diet should include fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats.
Dietary Tips for IBD Patients:
How you eat is just as important as what you eat when it comes to managing IBD. The below tips may help to manage or prevent IBD flareups.
Eat Small, Frequent Meals
Eating small, frequent meals can help IBD patients digest their food properly and reduce inflammation.
Avoid Trigger Foods
IBD patients should avoid foods that trigger their symptoms, such as spicy foods, high-fat foods, and dairy products.
IBD patients should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, which can exacerbate symptoms.
Increase Fiber Intake Gradually
Fiber can be beneficial for IBD patients, but it should be increased gradually to prevent digestive upset.
Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods
IBD patients should aim to eat a balanced diet with a variety of nutrient-dense foods such as leafy greens, lean protein, and whole grains to ensure they are getting the nutrients they need.
It’s important for IBD patients to monitor their symptoms and report any changes to their healthcare team, as nutrient deficiencies can cause additional complications and may exacerbate IBD symptoms.
What To Eat When You Have IBD
It’s important to note that everyone with IBD has different symptoms, and the disease affects everyone differently. There is no one plan that works for everyone, and there are lots of different types of diets that IBD patients follow. Your doctor or dietician may recommend a specific diet based on your particular symptoms.
Every patient with IBD is different, and different foods may trigger symptoms or affect patients differently. However, there are some common foods that many IBD sufferers find triggering that you may wish to avoid. At the very least, symptoms should be monitored to determine if they are affecting you.
Foods to Avoid:
- High-fat foods: Foods high in fat can be difficult to digest and may trigger inflammation in the digestive tract. Examples include fried foods, creamy sauces, and fatty meats.
- Spicy foods: Spicy foods can also cause inflammation in the digestive tract, and may trigger symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain.
- Dairy products: Many IBD patients have difficulty digesting lactose, the sugar found in dairy products. This can cause symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
- Fiber-rich foods: While fiber is important for digestive health, some IBD patients may have difficulty digesting high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods can cause discomfort and exacerbate symptoms in some patients.
On the flip side, some foods may actually help to ease your symptoms and provide valuable nutrients.
Foods to Add:
- Lean protein: IBD patients should aim to include lean protein sources such as chicken, fish, and tofu in their diet. These foods are easy to digest and provide essential amino acids for muscle and tissue repair.
- Low-fiber fruits and vegetables: IBD patients should choose low-fiber fruits and vegetables such as bananas, cooked carrots, and peeled apples. These foods provide important vitamins and minerals without causing discomfort. Try adding just a few of these fruits and vegetables to your diet at a time, vs. trying everything all at once.
- Whole grains: While some IBD patients may have difficulty digesting fiber-rich whole grains, others may tolerate them well. Whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Fermented foods: Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut can be beneficial for IBD patients. These foods contain beneficial bacteria that can help support digestive health.
It’s important to note that every IBD patient is unique and may have different dietary needs and restrictions. It’s best to work with a registered dietitian or your healthcare team to develop a healthy, personalized meal plan that meets your individual needs and preferences.
In summary, nutrient deficiencies are common in IBD patients and can cause a range of complications if left untreated. IBD patients should work with their healthcare team to monitor their symptoms, develop a comprehensive treatment plan that includes nutritional support, and aim to eat a balanced diet with a variety of nutrient-dense foods.