Digestive Health

Does food cause Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The cause of IBD is not known, however it has been questioned if certain food components may trigger IBD flares. The research to date does not support eliminating foods from your diet, and in fact there is a higher risk for developing nutritional deficiencies when foods are excluded. While diet does not cause or cure IBD, it can affect symptoms (e.g. abdominal pain, gas, cramping, and diarrhea) so some modifications may be helpful.

What is the difference between soluble and insoluble fibre?
Fibre is the part of a plant which cannot be digested by enzymes in the intestine. Fibre increases stool bulk, stimulates bowel movements, and produces gas when fermented by bacteria in the colon. Fibre can have different effects on the body, and this depends on the type of fibre. Fibre types are distinguished by their ability to dissolve in fluid. Soluble fibre will dissolve, whereas insoluble fibre will not.

Soluble fibre is best known for its favourable effects on cholesterol and for helping to form loose bowel movements. Good food source include oats, oatbran, legumes, and the pulp of fruit and vegetables.

Insoluble fibre is best known for bulking stool and relieving constipation. Good food sources include whole grain breads & cereals, and many fruits and vegetables.

What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose is the sugar found mostly in dairy products, and some people may have difficulty digesting it. This may happen if there isn't enough digestive enzyme (lactase) to break down lactose for absorption. If lactose isn't absorbed, symptoms of bloating, gas, cramping, and diarrhea may develop. Lactose intolerance refers to the inability to digest some or all of lactose that is consumed.

There are many lactose-reduced or lactose-free foods available in grocery stores. Lactose in dairy products can also be reduced by adding lactase enzyme drops or tablets (also available commercially). It is important to find substitutes if you avoid dairy products, since they provide many important nutrients (e.g. calcium & vitamin D).

Am I absorbing enough nutrients from foods?
Nutrient absorption depends on the health of your bowel and the adequacy of your diet. You may be at risk for malabsorbing certain nutrients if a part of your bowel is diseased (e.g. IBD flare), surgically removed, or if you are taking certain medications. For most people, maintaining a healthy weight indicates that you are eating enough calorie containing foods, and a diet following Canada's Food Guide for Healthy Eating will ensure your body receives a variety of nutrients for good health.

When are supplements needed?
Supplements may be helpful when the body cannot get enough nutrients (e.g. malabsorption, increased needs in illness or from medication, or poor dietary intake). Specific nutrients are isolated and can be given in intravenous or oral forms. Examples of common supplements include iron, calcium, and vitamin B12. Supplements can also provide calories and protein, which may be helpful when regular eating is difficult. Examples include beverages such as Ensure, Boost, NuBasics, and Resource.

Further nutritional information available at Mount Sinai Hospital's Inflammatory Bowel Disease Centre.