My Experience Being Gluten-Free With Crohn's Disease
Last updated: April 2023
Can a gluten-free diet help IBD symptoms?
A study has shown around a fifth of people with IBD have actually attempted going gluten-free, with around two-thirds of them finding it improved symptoms, and 38% reporting fewer or less severe flare-ups between periods of remission.1,2
This shows that for a large proportion of people with IBD who have tried gluten-free, it wasn't necessarily of benefit, but it's still also helped a significant chunk of people. Of course, of those people, we don't necessarily know gluten is the culprit. It may be going gluten-free removes other food triggers, meaning people eat out less or naturally eat healthier, which could all play a part. It may also be a gluten-free diet is lower in FODMAPs which has also been linked to helping IBD symptoms. We also don't know if it was purely coincidental and giving up gluten just happened to occur at the same time as remission or symptoms easing due to other factors.
My experience with gluten-free diet for Crohn's disease
As soon as my gastro symptoms started (way before my actual Crohn's diagnosis) at 16, I figured out dairy seemed to make my symptoms a lot worse. I still ate gluten happily up until this point and until a year or so after being diagnosed at age 28.
I went to Bali for a holiday and ended up naturally not eating bread for 2 weeks, thanks to the local food. I realized how much better I felt (which on reflection, could have been to do with being on holiday!) so decided to continue with it. I had been tested for coeliac disease previously (which was negative) but did continue to notice a benefit when back home.
I found then when avoiding gluten, my toilet trips were less and my head felt so much clearer. I felt my concentration levels were so much better and my brain fog much less. I was also taking biologics at the time, so I wasn't sure if that was the cause of the change, but when stopping the drug (due to moving to another country), I still felt better without eating gluten: flare or no flare-up.
It sounds promising, but going gluten-free hasn't actually impacted my disease activity. After going gluten-free, I still had one of my worst flare-ups with the development of a fistula. I still need medication for my IBD and being gluten-free certainly doesn't stop a flare-up from happening.
Gluten does impact my overall health
However, if I inadvertently eat gluten, both my stomach and head (with symptoms including headaches and brain fog) are really impacted. So whilst I am not sure if it is beneficial to my IBD, it definitely appears to be beneficial to my overall wellbeing. In turn, I feel I already have so many symptoms from my IBD that I can't change, so if I can make a change that does seem to help my general digestion and brain fog, then it's been worth it for me.
Like many lifestyle choices, the jury is out on gluten, and it really depends on the person. If you think it could be impacting you, it's important to be tested for coeliac disease before giving up gluten since those with coeliac disease are more likely to develop IBD. If you don't have coeliac disease but still feel gluten could be an issue, it's also important to speak to your dietician to ensure you don't miss out on any nutritional needs before cutting it out of your diet.
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