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Conquering Crohn’s: Managing inflammation with diet

YORK, Pa. -- Fueling your body can be difficult when your body is fighting itself. It's a lesson people living with Crohn's Disease know all too well. The best they can do is to try to control damaging inflammation. Hundreds of thousands of people living with irritable bowel disorders, or IBDs, battle painful symptoms over the course of their lives, and most of those symptoms tie back to inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.

Registered dietitian Lauren Musser with PinnacleHealth Memorial Hospital says there is no specific anti inflammatory diet; however, she says there are diet changes that can be made to help manage inflammation and avoid painful flares.

Foods that are high in fat, or high in fiber, like seeds, nuts, and beans, as well as gaseous vegetables, like kale or broccoli, can trigger a flare. Acidic fruits also make the list. While it might sound strange to avoid fruits and vegetables, Musser says these foods are harder to digest. Even sugar alcohols found in sugar-free products and chewing gums can trigger painful inflammation.

"If you're in a flare," Musser cautions people with IBDs, "try to do more bland foods."

When it comes to preventing flares Musser says there are foods that are known to be anti-inflammatory by nature. At the top of that list, are dark red and purple fruits and vegetable, like berries, plums, red onions, and red cabbage. Spices like turmeric and curcumin are also known to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Herbs also have benefits, Musser says.  "Fresh basil, parsley, chives. We think of those as just tasting good, but they're full of antioxidants. Throwing parsley on your salad, putting basil on a sandwich, they're going to taste good, but they're also full of antioxidants, so basically you're building up a good immune system and a healthy gut."

When trying to include larger quantities of those immune boosters into a daily diet, many people turn to supplements.

"There is no scientific evidence that those things are anti-inflammatory," Musser explains, "however, you do see patients and people say that they feel better."

Musser says patients have also reported relief after consuming probiotics, either in capsule form, or from fermented foods like yogurt.

"Your gut, your body is changing every decade," she says. "Slowly you can start incorporating foods that you haven't touched in five, ten years."

Musser's top recommendation, is to keep a food journal. She says that can help patients identify the biggest offenders. Overall, Musser says it's about living a healthy lifestyle.

"It's about your overall health. It's about stress, it's about sleep, it's about diet, it's about exercise. Take it one day at a time."