Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a group of long-term conditions that affect the gut. Since the condition targets the intestines, many people have come up with diet plans to treat it as alternatives to medications and surgery (which come with a plethora of side-effects).
One such diet is the carnivore diet. If you have IBD and are looking to calm your gut down with the help of a specialized diet, this article will walk you through what a carnivore diet is and what science says about its effectiveness in treating IBD.
What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is the umbrella term for two autoimmune conditions of the gut — Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Although doctors don’t know why, the body decides to attack the gut in both conditions, leading to symptoms like:
● Abdominal pain
● Weight loss
● Skin rashes
● Joint pain
● Eye inflammation
Your doctor will differentiate between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis via blood tests as well as a biopsy of your gut to look for characteristic changes each disease causes. Once diagnosed, you’ll be put on drugs like steroids to keep your disease under control. If poorly controlled, you may have to undergo surgery where the surgeon removes the diseased segment of your intestines.
IBD is that is a long-term condition. This means symptoms will come and go over months and years, making it costly and difficult to deal with the disease. This is the primary reason people turn towards alternative treatment methods like a carnivore diet to manage their symptoms.
It’s also useful to note that while no food has been scientifically demonstrated to cause inflammatory bowel disease, many patients report a worsening of their symptoms after eating specific foods. One example is high-fiber foods. Although patients are encouraged to increase fiber in their diet during a remission, doctors advise them to avoid fiber during a flare because it can worsen the episode (and cause obstruction if there’s a stricture, which is a common finding in Crohn’s disease).
So using diet to control IBD is not something unheard of. With that background in mind, let’s look at what a carnivore diet is and whether it can help with your symptoms.
What is a carnivore diet?
A carnivore diet is based solely on animal-derived foods like meat and eggs. Proponents of the diet believe that since our ancestors used to live on a carnivore diet, it’s the “normal” diet for humans and that addition of plant-based foods has given rise to chronic inflammatory diseases (like IBD).
While other diets (like the keto diet) restrict carbs too, the carnivore diet goes to the extreme of consuming zero carbs.
If you’re on a carnivore diet, here’s a list of foods you may consume:
● Organ meats
● Bone marrow
● Dairy products — however, proponents of the diet advise avoiding high-lactose dairy products like butter and hard cheese
And here’s a list of foods you should avoid:
● All veggies
● All fruits
● All kinds of nuts and seeds
● Fruit juices
● Grains like wheat, barley, and bread
So can a carnivore diet ease IBD symptoms? Let’s find out.
Is a carnivore diet good for IBD?
A carnivore diet may help with IBD symptoms but we’re not sure. That’s because there are no scientific studies that investigated a carnivore diet and its effects on IBD symptoms.
As mentioned earlier, high-fiber foods can make an IBD flare worse. Since a carnivore diet restricts your fiber considerably, it may help ease IBD symptoms while you're having a flare.
Many IBD patients are lactose-intolerant. Lactose is a sugar found in dairy products, and if you can’t break it down, you can experience nausea, vomiting, bloating, and abdominal cramping after consuming dairy. Since a carnivore diet discourages eating high-lactose foods, this may be another way it eases the symptoms of IBD.
Then, a carnivore diet has virtually zero FODMAPs. FODMAPs are fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols. They are basically carbohydrates present in foods like wheat, and may cause bloating, nausea, and vomiting in some IBD patients. This association is not very strong but it does exist. By limiting your FODMAP intake, a carnivore diet may be good for your IBD symptoms.
Finally, other diets that restrict carbohydrate intake (like keto diet and specific carbohydrate diet) have been shown to reduce gut inflammation by scientific studies. While such studies are absent for the carnivore diet, it’s logical to assume that it could reduce inflammation in the gut via a similar mechanism.
Should I take a carnivore diet for the long-term in IBD?
No. No medical professional will recommend the carnivore diet to you long-term because it goes directly against the concept of a well-balanced diet.
While a carnivore diet may temporarily offer relief in IBD (and even this hasn’t been proven scientifically), it can cause dangerous nutritional deficiencies in the long-term. One example is folate (also known as vitamin B9), which comes exclusively from plant sources. It doesn’t take the body long to become deficient in folate, and when it does, you develop anemia (leading to tiredness, fatigue, and heart complications if severe and chronic).
On the other hand, a carnivore diet can cause excess of certain nutrients, the most dangerous example being fat. Meat and dairy products are rich in saturated fats, which are known to raise the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) in your body. As LDL builds up in your blood vessels, you’re put at an increased risk for cardiovascular complications like heart attacks, strokes, and gangrenous limbs.
Similarly, a carnivore diet delivers high amounts of sodium into your bloodstream. This can increase the level of fluid inside your body, leading to elevated blood pressure. An elevated blood pressure increases your risk of cardiovascular problems and causes organ damage (e.g., kidney damage).
A carnivore diet is when you exclusively consume animal products. Logically speaking, a carnivore diet may ease IBD symptoms but no doctor will recommend you to follow it. That’s because there is zero scientific evidence backing up its effectiveness, and long-term use of the diet can lead to problematic nutritional deficiencies.