People with inflammatory bowel disease are often malnourished. Here’s why and what can be done about it.
People who’ve been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease should see a nutritionist who’s experienced with dealing with this type of disease. Why? A new study shows that up to ten percent of people who have inflammatory bowel disease suffer from malnourishment – and some don’t even know it.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease: What is It?
Inflammatory bowel disease is a term that encompasses two diseases – ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Both diseases are characterized by inflammation in the intestines, but they vary as to the parts of the intestines that are affected. People with inflammatory bowel disease experience sometimes disabling symptoms of bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain which can persist for days or weeks before going into remission. The inflammation occurs because the body’s immune system turns against itself and attacks portions of the intestine – causing the intestinal walls to become damaged. No one is sure what triggers the self attacks that are so characteristic of inflammatory bowel disease. In most cases, the attacks come and go over long periods of time.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Malnourishment
After looking at 385 adults and children with inflammatory bowel disease, researchers found that 9 percent of children and 10 percent of adults with inflammatory bowel disease were malnourished. Some of the deficiencies they found included decreased vitamin B12, folate, and iron levels – and some had anemia. Anemia was more common in children than adults with IBD. Malnourishment only seemed to be a problem in those with active disease.
Why is Malnourishment Such a Problem with Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
It’s not surprising that people with inflammatory bowel disease could become malnourished. Children and adults with this disease may avoid eating foods that aggravate their symptoms and often experience decreased appetite from the abdominal pain they experience. On top of that, they may not absorb some nutrients properly due to intestinal damage. People with IBD may become protein deficient and lose lean body mass which increases the risk of experiencing complications or even death – and may even require venous feedings for short periods of time or insertion of a tube into the intestines for feeding in the most severe cases.
How Can People with IBD Avoid Malnutrition?
There are some nutrients that may benefit people with inflammatory bowel disease. Omega-3 fatty acids provide essential fatty acids and may reduce some of the inflammation that leads to intestinal damage. Most people with IBD disease need to take a multivitamin for additional protection against malnutrition. Many will also benefit from calcium and vitamin D supplements due to their higher risk for osteoporosis. It’s also wise to check levels of critical nutrients such as B12 and iron regularly to make sure there’s no deficiency. A B12 deficiency can lead to permanent nerve damage if left untreated.
The Bottom Line?
Inflammatory bowel disease needs close nutritional support. It’s important to find a doctor and a nutritionist who really understands this disease to get the best care.