Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Diet – Irrevocably Linked

This morning, I got all excited when I spotted the headline in IBD News Today, “Natural Diet is Key to Preventing, Reversing Crohn’s in Children, Israeli Expert Says.”[i]  Wow! I hoped that this article would be about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, or at least something close to it (bearing in mind the recent work by Dr. Suskind at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital which I’ve written about more than once (read, for example, my December 12th post about an interview with him)).  Unfortunately, it was not.  However, it still was somewhat interesting.

Instead, the article describes the work of Dr. Arie Levine who heads the Pediatric IBD Center at Wolfson Hospital in a suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel.  Dr. Levine “… is convinced that the genes kids are born with are not the reason so many of them in the developing world are getting Crohn’s and other inflammatory bowel diseases, or IBDs.  The real reason, he said, is all the animal fats, unmixable liquids known as emulsifiers and food additives they’re putting in their stomachs.”

The concept of food leading to bowel disease has been in the medical literature for well over 100 years.  For example, Dr. Samual Gee – who was the first to identify that food was responsible for Celiac disease – said, in 1888, “What the patient takes beyond his ability to digest does harm,” as well as, “If the patient can be cured at all, it must be my means of diet.”[ii]


A little tangent here, just because it’s so incredibly relevant:  the ACTUAL Hippocratic oath – not the modern version currently use, but the one truly attributed to Hippocrates – states, “I will use those dietary regimens which will benefit my patients according to my greatest ability and judgement….”[iii]

Hippocrates of Cos bust

Anyway, Dr. Levine believes that  “…a defect in the immune system’s ability to prevent bacteria from sticking to the lining of the intestines, which then generates an appropriate counter-attack by the immune system.”  The article goes on to explain that Dr. Levine believes Crohn’s is the result of poor nutrition leading to the body’s inability to clear bacteria from the GI tract.  “We suspected not only a change of microbiome or gut bacteria, but also a change in the ability of the intestines to fend off those bacteria.”

Apparently, Dr. Levine’s “eureka moment” came when a mother brought her son to him.  She didn’t want to do an elemental (liquid) diet and her child got better with just regular food – no drugs and no elemental formula.  This happened again, with one of Dr. Levine’s adult patients.  He realized that the food was triggering the immune hyper-reactivity.  “As simple as that sounds, Levine said, ‘nobody believed my concept. I started with a hypothesis that went against everything in the medical community.’”

Actually…the medical literature is rife with articles suggesting that malabsorption issues and dietary components are likely a trigger for IBD.  For example, this from an article the journal, Gut, in 1997:  “A high sucrose consumption was associated with an increased risk for IBD against population controls…Fructose intake was negatively associated with risk for IBD.”[iv]   Elaine Gottchall’s book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle[v], which lays out the foundations for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, delves deeply into this literature.  She researched for over a decade before writing the book.   But Elaine was mocked too so I’m not surprised to find out Dr. Levine was given a hard time.

I personally think it should be required reading for everyone studying gastroenterology.

Now for the depressing part:

After seeing these patients cured of an incurable disease by changes in diet, in 2011 Dr. Levine met with the “food giants Nestle – which makes a liquid product for Crohn’s” and accepted huge grant monies to start his research.  He is now heading up 5 different clinical studies all on using liquid elemental formula to treat Crohn’s.

It’s not Dr. Levine’s fault.  As he correctly points out, “…there was no industry developing this field of research, and we have to do all the regulatory stuff ourselves.”  That is, there is no money to study a diet which cannot be sold or patented.

The article points out that the rates of IBD have risen as much as 15%  in the past 17 years alone.  IBD is one of the many diseases in this inflammatory epidemic rampaging through the industrialized world.  Eating the right diet has no side effects, costs almost nothing (relatively speaking), has no long term detrimental effects (i.e. increasing cancer risks, like many of the current IBD drugs – see my post about that), and in fact, improves the quality of the bacterial microbiome thus globally improving health.

As Dr. Levine says, “In the Western world, we’re being exposed to too many things like emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners. If you don’t stop eating those things, you can take as many drugs as you like, but your disease will progress.”



[ii] Gee, S. On the coelic affliction. St. Bartholomew Hospital Report. 1888. 24:17.


[iv] Reif, S Klein, L, Lubin, F, Farbstein, M, Hallak, A, Gilat, T. Pre-illness dietary factors in inflammatory bowel disease. Gut. 1997. 40(6):754-60.

[v] Gottschall, E. Breaking the Vicious Cycle. Ontario: The Kirkton Press. 1994.

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