Friday, December 19, 2008

IBD and the Additive You Need to Subtract from Your Diet

Do you have IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)? Are your symptoms worse after you eat certain processed foods? Maybe the culprit is an emulsifier from "natural" sources that is found in almost every prepared foods, but especially ice cream, yogurt, coffee creamer, and cheese spreads.

IBD is a disease most commonly seen in North America and Northern Europe, and it strikes 4 times as many Caucasians as members of other races. It is especially common among Ashkenazi Jews. IBD typically first appears in the late teens or 20’s, although first cases are also clustered among people aged 55 to 65. Interestingly, smokers are much less likely to get IBD than former smokers or non-smokers, and nicotine patches have been tried as a treatment for the condition.

When research scientists want to induce inflammatory bowel disease in lab rats, they feed them carrageenan. This seaweed derivative is used as an emulsifier and stabilizer in almost every prepared food product containing milk, including ice cream, yogurt, coffee creamer, and cheese spreads.

Carageenan by itself (even in enormous quantities) does not cause intestinal inflammation in humans. However, when it is used as a food by the intestinal bacterium Bacteroides vulgatus, it creates a toxic chemical that accelerates the course of both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

This bacterium is especially abundant in the intestine when there is chronic inflammation. People with IBD should be careful to avoid any product containing carageenan, and if eating prepared foods is unavoidable, take probiotics to provide bacteria to compete with B. vulgatus. Yogurt is an acceptable probiotic in IBD only if is not made with emulsifiers or stabilizers.

Some people with IBD have identifiable food allergies and do better when they eliminate offending food items from their diet. Some clinical trials have found that IBD patients do better when they completely eliminate gluten and dairy, but others have found that IBD patients do better when they receive concentrated wheat and dairy proteins.

For this reason, it is premature to suppose that there is a connection between allergies and symptoms in all cases of IBD, and food allergies have to be considered on a purely individual basis. When there is a food allergy that aggravates symptoms of IBD, it is most likely to be tied to yeasts and molds used in making bread and cheese. A majority of people with IBD, however, do not have food allergies. High-fiber foods, such as beans, fruit, and nuts, can irritate the colon but do not usually cause allergies.

So what's someone with IBD to do? Maybe the problem is not dairy, but the additives put in dairy. Buy organic and make sure carrageenan is not listed on the label. If you avoid carrageenan, maybe you can enjoy your dairy and keep your IBD in control.

You should also try to eat foods rich in alpha- and beta-carotene every day. Your body turns beta-carotene into vitamin, which is essential in the gastrointestinal tract for the secretion of protective mucus and the regeneration of intestinal cells. Excellent sources of alpha- and beta-carotene include apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash.

Make an effort to consume vegetables that are rich in magnesium as often as possible. The magnesium will have minimal effect on IBD, but it will prevent magnesium deficiencies, which are common in IBD. Excellent sources of magnesium include almonds, amaranth (the grain), avocados, barley, Brazil nuts, buckwheat, chocolate, oysters, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, and sunflower seeds. The antioxidant phytochemical quercetin blocks the release of certain substances, such as histamine and leukotrienes, which are associated with inflammation. Sources of quercetin include apples, white (green) cabbage, cranberries, garlic, grapefruit, grapes, kale, onions, pears, and spinach. Inadequate levels of vitamin C have been linked to Crohn’s disease and the healing properties of vitamin C are thought to ease its symptoms. Sources of vitamin C in food include Bell peppers, red cabbage, kiwi, mandarins, oranges, potatoes, strawberries, and tangerines. Finally, the intestinal damage caused by IBD can lead to deficiencies in zinc. Sources of zinc in food include barley, beef, chicken, crab, lamb, oysters, turkey, and whole wheat.

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