A low-fat, high-fiber diet may improve the quality of life of patients with ulcerative colitis, a new study finds.
"Patients with inflammatory bowel disease always ask us what they should eat to make their symptoms better," said researcher Dr. Maria Abreu. She's a professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
"Sadly, there have been very few really good studies that provide that information," she said in a university news release.
For the study, Abreu and her colleagues looked at 17 people with ulcerative colitis. Colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that can cause bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain. Each patient in the study was either in remission or had mild disease, with little diarrhea, bleeding or pain.
One group ate a high-fiber diet rich in fruits and vegetables, with just 10% of calories from fat.
Another group ate a diet with more fruits, vegetables and fiber than a usual American diet. But about 35% to 40% of their calories came from fat.
The groups ate these diets for a month and then switched diets for another month.
"The results were fascinating and show us how poorly patients eat at baseline," Abreu said.
People who ate a low-fat diet had lower levels of inflammation and signs of improvement in bacterial imbalance in the gastrointestinal tract, the researchers found. Yet many ulcerative colitis patients are told to avoid fruits and vegetables, the researchers noted.
A high-fiber, low-fat diet might also benefit people with other types of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease.
"We are now testing a similar diet in Crohn's disease patients, but adding a psychological component to help with long-term adherence to a healthy diet," Abreu said.
The report was published June 30 in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
For more on ulcerative colitis, head to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation.