Can a Liquid Nutrition Diet help with Inflammation?

If you are suffering from a condition that impairs digestion, don’t despair. Instead, try this.

Some gastrointestinal conditions cause inflammation in the lining of the large intestine, causing damage that compromises digestion. The resulting flareups are painful and can include severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and extreme fatigue. Goodbye, appetite. 

Not surprisingly, this can lead to unintended weight loss and nutritional deficiencies that might exacerbate the situation. Then it becomes a difficult cycle for many people, since they’re hesitant to eat and drink anything that may worsen symptoms, leading to even more depletion and stress. But good news, a liquid nutrition diet can help. 

How does exclusive enteral nutrition help?

Exclusive enteral nutrition (EEN) is a completely liquid diet that uses a formula-only approach. In some cases, you might have some solid food, but at least 80 percent of your calories would come from the formula.

Although there has been significant research indicating EEN can help lower inflammation, the exact mechanism is largely unknown. There are several leading theories regarding the active effects from the formula, and food removal, which allows the gut to rest.

Published in the European Journal of Medicine, Andrew Day, M.D., of University of Otago Christchurch in New Zealand, notes that EEN has shown high rates of mucosal healing, improved nutrition, and enhanced bone health, with few side effects1-5.

"Over the past few years, new reports have advanced our understanding of the mechanism by which EEN acts: these include modulation of the intestinal microbiota and direct anti-inflammatory effects upon the epithelium," he writes.

In terms of giving your gut a break, there’s also research indicating benefits of EEN or partial enteral diets for that as well. For example, a study in Intestinal Research6 found that EEN helps to modulate bacterial flora, and that can reduce intestinal inflammation as a result. 

How long until you feel relief?

Much like your GI symptoms and degrees of inflammation, along with the frequency of flare-ups, your situation is unique. In the same way, everyone responds differently to EEN and partial enteral nutrition diets, Newman says.

Most patients are on the diet for four to twelve weeks, but the length of your liquid diet will be based on several factors, such as the specific protocol of your healthcare provider or institution, and whether it seems to be reducing symptoms.

Even when you’re feeling better or haven’t had symptoms for a few weeks, your gastroenterologist may keep you on the liquid diet for at least a couple more weeks, according to Newman. That’s because you’re in the process of intestinal healing, and introducing solid foods too quickly might interrupt that healing.

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1. Day, A. S. (2019). Switching off inflammation with diet: a review of exclusive enteral nutrition in children with Crohn’s disease. Gastroenterology, 8, 86-94.

2. O’Morain C et al. Elemental diet as primary-treatment of acute Crohn’s Disease – A controlled trial. Brit Med J. 1984;288:1859-62.

3. Yu Y et al. Exclusive enteral nutrition versus corticosteroids for treatment of pediatric Crohn’s disease: A meta-analysis. World J Pediatr. 2019;15(1):26-36.

4. Heuschkel RB et al. Enteral nutrition and corticosteroids in the treatment of acute Crohn’s disease in children. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2000;31(1):8-15.

5. Walters T et al. Exclusive enteral nutrition versus corticosteroid induction therapy for new onset paediatric Crohn’s disease: Comparison of 18 month outcomes in a Canadian prospective multi-centre inception cohort. P-052. PIBD Congress 2019, 11-14 September, 2019.

6. Adamji, M., & Day, A. S. (2019). An overview of the role of exclusive enteral nutrition for complicated Crohn’s disease. Intestinal research, 17(2), 171.

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