UMASS IBD Diet Study Sees 100% Success (Podcast 36)

Living on the edge is infinitely rewarding, but frustrating.

It’s rewarding to spread the news and help people understand they can get lasting relief from natural treatment options…

…yet frustrating because there isn’t much published research to back up the results I see every day.

I know natural treatment works, but there are skeptics with much more ammo.

I was stoked to learn about the UMASS IBD-AID study when it was released. The abstract said it was based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and resulted in 100% of patients reducing their symptoms!

That’s some very promising results. But I’ve learned through the years that caution needs to be taken when evaluating any study. Researchers have agendas, the money that backs the research has agendas, and people do make mistakes. Because of that I held off writing about this study until I could get a better understanding of their research.

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What I found was very exciting…

Why This Study Was Unique and Powerful

At a high level, what separates this study from the others is:

  1. The recruited participants had confirmed IBD and had taken, or were taking, 2 out of the 4 of the common drug treatments for IBD (Steroids, 5-ASA, Immunodulator, and aTNF)
  2. The participants weren’t new to the disease, the average time since diagnosis was 9.3 years (with a range of 1-24years)
  3.  The treatment protocol worked equally well for Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
  4. 100% of the patients were able to discontinue at least one of their prior anti-inflammatories, immunomodulators, or biologics
  5. Notably, 9 out of 11 patients were able to be managed without anti-TNF therapy, and 100% of the patients had their symptoms reduced

However, like I said, it pays to go deeper and really evaluate any research. After trading emails with the UMASS staff, I was able to gain a better understanding of the study. From there, it was clear that I needed to interview Gioia to learn as much as possible. What follows are my notes:

A Critical Review of This Study…

I don’t want to take anything from the UMASS team or the participants in the study because it is ground-breaking research and they deserve credit. But I do want to share why it is only the first step on a long road. Gioia freely admits that the study comes with limitations so don’t think they are trying to snowball anyone. Instead, they are doing the grunt work that every research field starts with. Every disease, including cancer, needs studies like this. Here’s what you should keep in mind as you ponder the study:

  1. It is a very small pilot of only 11 people (the more people in a study the better… conclusions are not related to chance – that’s why the best studies contain 1000’s of people)
  2. It was a retrospective study, meaning that the UMASS team decided on a criteria for inclusion and then picked the cases that meet this criteria to analyze them. This can be a serious flaw in any retrospective study, due to researcher bias. (I’m also unsure of how many years were sampled to find the 11 patients – in a retrospective study, it is unlikely that all the treatments happened in the same year.)
  3. The active treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease – Anti-Inflammatory Diet (IBD-AID) was administered in a custom fashion which provided fast symptom reductions (most saw results in under 4 weeks) but it is unclear what foods each patient ate from the IBD-AID allowed list. We are left to wonder how many actually ate the whole list? It’s important to note that the IBD-AID treatment was NOT the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. It was a new protocol the researchers developed that was loosely based on SCD.
  4. The IBD-AID appears to have changed over the time of this study. For example, Gioia mentioned that oats were added after a patient had great results with them. This presents a big problem if one were to assume that oats are good for everyone. We can’t tell if it was patient 1 or 10 who had good results with them.  Also, we don’t know how many other foods were added to the treatment plan like this?
  5. The supplement protocol was custom and not published, therefore it is really hard to know what each patient was taking or impossible to conclude what could work in general.

Again, let me be clear: I’m grateful for all those involved in this study and really happy to hear about all the success they are having treating patients naturally. However, I want those who undertake natural treatments to be fully informed and prepared when discussing this info with doctors, naysayers, or the completely uniformed.

So, What Can We Conclude from the Study?

From my analysis, the following conclusions can be drawn:

  1. None of the study participants who had active IBD were harmed or experienced any side-effects from a diet that restricted grains, sugars, and other processed foods.
  2. None of the study participants were harmed or displayed side-effects by taking supplements chosen specifically for them.
  3. All of the study participants showed a decrease, or remission of IBD symptoms, after changing their diet and adding supplements.
  4. The active treatment (diet/supplements) were so powerful that 100% of participants were able to decrease or stop taking all classes of IBD drugs, including 9 out of 11 who were able to stop using anti-TNF therapy.
  5. Nothing in this study discredits the ability of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to help IBD, it simply provides more evidence that diet modification and supplements work… even in the toughest cases of IBD.
  6. The IBD-AID protocol and other related diet and supplement treatments should be further studied as a FIRST treatment option for IBD, due to the LACK of side-effects and extremely high results observed in this study. The reported clinical success of the SCD and GAPS protocols further advocate for more research in this area.

To sum it up for you, this study is more evidence that you should modify your diet to exclude all grains, processed foods, and sugars. If you have any digestive problems, especially IBD, the evidence is beginning to stack up that you need to be following SCD, GAPS, Paleo, Primal, or IBD-AID to naturally treat your disease. Of course, we’re bias to using SCD as we see it work on a regular basis with all types of IBD, especially when using a custom tailored diet. We also believe, as the study showed, that supplements are a very important part of naturally treating IBD.

The Inside Scoop

The UMASS team was kind enough to let me interview Gioia Persuittethe, co-author of the study. I really want to thank her and the University for their generosity. I also want to thank them for furthering natural treatment options for the digestive community. I hope they get their funding for the next study!

On This Podcast Interview, We Covered:

1:30 Gioia’s background and how she got involved in the study
4:20 Who was eligible for this study?
8:24 The specific changes made to the SCD to create the IBD-AID?
13:59 How fast did most of the patients start seeing progress?
19:42 Did anyone eat SCD Yogurt?
22:09 What Fish oil was everyone taking?
27:13 Was Vitamin D supplementation part of the study?
28:46 Diet modifications got people off drugs – but how long did it take?
33:00 Email gioia.persuitte AT to find out more
35:01 What were her biggest “Ah Ha”moments from the study?


Thanks again to Gioia and the staff of the UMASS team who participated in the study. For the record, there is no evidence suggesting saturated fat intake contributes to heart disease. In fact, it is likely protective. If you’re curious how I could make that claim, please listen to Chris Masterjohn and Chris Kresser as they cover the truth about Cholesterol and heart disease (Part I, Part II, and Part III).



P.S. – If you can’t see the audio player below, download the MP3 here. Also, make sure you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review – thanks!

Steven Wright

About Steven Wright

Steve Wright is a health engineer and author. In 2009, he reached a breaking point when IBS took over his life and the doctors didn't know how to help. Since then, he has transformed his health and started to help others naturally heal stomach problems. You can check out his story here and find him on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

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10 thoughts on “UMASS IBD Diet Study Sees 100% Success (Podcast 36)

  1. Avatar

    Hi Steve:
    Thanks for this great podcast! I have been a UC sufferer since 2004 and over the years have tried several different dietary approaches with varying results. In January 2013
    I started following Elaine’s book and in the following 6-8 months lost 28 of my overweight pounds and felt fairly well, but still take my prescribed UC medication.
    I would love to get a personalized diet as I have several different health issues that I need to juggle through diet. I just got out of the hospital after an attack of Pancreatitis.
    I was released after 3 days still on clear liquids and sent home with 2 pages on a low fat diet, which in many ways is in direct opposition to what I have been doing with the SCD Diet. I will contact Giona and hope to get in touch with a dietitian over there who can help me customize a diet to take my overall health issues into consideration.
    Your podcast was wonderfully informative, thank you so much.

  2. Avatar

    As a scientist/researcher, I would caution from drawing the conclusions written above based on this study. This study has too few participants and lacks a control group. They also did not follow the participants for very long, relatively speaking. Why do these things matter? Well, in a nutshell, IBD symptoms fluctuate anyway and participants also received medication that could account for results. (Or other factors, such as the expectation of improvement and several self-report measures, could account for apparent improvements.) We simply cannot conclude, based on this type of study, that any improvement was due to the diet or what the longer terms effects are in terms of disease progression and safety. The diet also included many components, so it is unclear whether the whole diet, versus specific parts of it, would be needed for any effects.

    All of this is why it is called a pilot study in the title: to make it clear that it is an early, small study that exists to see if there is any justification for doing bigger, better studies that would provide more helpful evidence. What is exciting is that they might have that basis and obtain funding for a well-designed study. Without that, we really don’t know. I would like to see the SCD compared not just with typical diet, but also with diets that aren’t as restrictive as the SCD but generally are considered healthier, such as a plant-based diet with fish and no/low red meat plus predominantly whole grains.

    I would also like to point out that stopping drugs in favor of a diet that is not (yet) supported by sound scientific evidence could cause harm if the disease eventually worsens over time. The risks of many drugs are quite low compared to the risks of worsened disease.

    • Steven Wright

      @LK – that’s the beauty of life, you are allowed to interpenetrate it anyway you’d like. However your interpenetration says just as I did that this is pilot study and that is confirming with all IBD patients know. That diet does matter. If the side effect of the treatment arm is zero. Then this kind of study should carry much more weight than a drug trail (many of which last not much longer than this one). Not to mention everyone who studies food modification research KNOWS that you cannot create a double blind RCT for diets… there’s too many variables. Don’t through the baby out with the bath water.

      Lastly, if your a researcher and you’ve researched IBD drugs you’d know that the longterm affects are quite risky. The relative risk of drugs vs diet modification is no contest. Diet is always safer.

  3. Avatar

    Hi Steve
    I’m so exited to hear that some research has taken place on a diet regime as a plausable treatment for Crohns, all be it a small pilot study. I tried to email the author but must have missheard her email, could you email me a contact please. I am going to share their work with my consultant and also my ‘integrated medical’ doctor, would love to get a repetition of that study going here in the UK.

    Many Thanks

  4. Avatar

    Steve, just listened to the podcast last night. Great stuff and thank you! Agree with your comments about the limitations of the study but the main takeaway should be that diet matters. That’s in stark contrast to why I’ve heard from my traditional GI. Now we just have to work on that AID a bit :).


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