In the summer of 2003, when my daughter received the harsh diagnosis of Crohn's disease, the words pierced my heart. I wanted to deny the diagnosis but knew I needed to accept it. Yet, peace eluded me even further when I learned of the strong medications initially prescribed by the gastroenterologist my daughter first saw. As a registered nurse, I knew the risk of detrimental, long-term side effects of the drugs prescribed for Crohn's disease.
Although I realized that many in the medical community categorize Crohn's disease as an autoimmune disorder and do not consider diet to be a significant factor, it seemed odd that diet would have so little to do with a gastrointestinal problem. Therefore, I decided to research that issue.
In my research, I learned of a pediatric gastroenterologist, Dr. J. Rainer Poley, who had conducted extensive studies on the effect of certain sugars and starches on people with intestinal diseases. My husband and I decided to take our daughter to see this doctor for another opinion. When we asked him if there was any other treatment she could try besides medications, he explained that at a recent medical conference in Europe, he had learned of success medical doctors were having with probiotics. He instructed our daughter to eat plain yogurt every day and to take a specific probiotic capsule called Culturelle® containing Lactobacillus GG [Gorbach and Goldin] twice daily. Based on Dr. Poley's research, he wanted her to limit the consumption of concentrated sugars (specifically table sugar, technically known as sucrose). The intent of the sucrose-restricted diet was to starve the harmful bacteria by taking away their major food source. The yogurt and Lactobacillus GG would help replenish the "good" bacteria.
Since it has been well documented that an overgrowth of bacteria is prevalently seen in people with Crohn’s disease, this treatment sounded like a plausible solution. Our daughter, feeling drained from the effects of Crohn’s disease, felt motivated to try the doctor’s recommendations. My husband and I were eager to support her in this new diet change.
After about two weeks, she began to feel better in general. At the follow-up doctor's appointment three months later, she had gained six pounds and her lab work was ALL NORMAL! We were elated!
When I began delving into the medical research about Crohn’s disease, I located studies on the effect of a restricted-sugar diet and also studies on the effect of probiotics. I became aware that research combining the two approaches is lacking. However, preliminary scientific evidence has revealed clues to the credibility of the treatment that Dr. Poley recommended to our daughter.
We feel grateful that she continues to remain well with normal lab results, and without clinical symptoms. For the past several years, I have shared our story with others who are suffering with Crohn’s disease in hopes that it will be of benefit to them. This passion to spread the message of our personal experience led me to write the book Reaching for Answers to Crohn's Disease. The book consists of a section with our personal story, a research section with information from published medical journal articles, and also a section of diet guidelines, including recipes.
Restricting sugar along with eating yogurt and taking a probiotic became a lifestyle that not only dramatically changed the course of our daughter’s health but has proven to be beneficial for our entire family.
If you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, it is my hope that you will try this simple approach. It certainly is not harmful to restrict sucrose. The probiotic containing Lactobacillus GG has been the most widely studied probiotic on the market today and has shown no adverse effects through the years. I do advise that you seek guidance from your physician before making any medication changes.
May you be blessed with good health!
Martha Kalichman, R.N.