Crohn's disease treatment in children: What are the concerns?

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Crohn's disease treatment in children: What role does diet play?

Question

What role does diet play in the management of Crohn's disease in children?

Jenna
California

Answer

Good nutrition is essential in the management of any disease — but especially in Crohn's disease treatment. Because Crohn's can cause diarrhea, decreased appetite and reduced ability to absorb nutrients, children may not get the nutrition they need to grow and develop properly.

No single diet has been proved effective in treating Crohn's disease. The most important thing is to make sure your child's diet provides adequate calories and nutrients. Highly restrictive diets are generally not recommended for children with Crohn's disease. Also, eliminating too many favorite foods may make your child less enthusiastic about eating.

In reality, few children with Crohn's disease require significant changes in their diets. However, because every child is different, dietary modifications can sometimes be helpful, especially during a flare.

Here are a few dietary considerations for children with Crohn's:

  • Salt. Limit salt intake if your child is taking corticosteroids. Salt increases fluid retention.
  • Fiber. During and right after a flare, your child's doctor may recommend a low-fiber diet. Avoid "chunky" high-fiber foods, such as popcorn.
  • Dairy. Some children who are lactose intolerant may have increased diarrhea and abdominal cramps when they consume dairy products. In such cases, limit dairy products or use lactose-free dairy products.
  • Dietary supplements. Children with Crohn's disease sometimes develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Talk to your child's doctor about whether nutritional supplements are appropriate for your child.
  • Protein. Proteins are very important for growth. Some experts recommend that children with Crohn's increase their protein intake by 150 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance for their age.
  • Fat. A low-fat diet is not generally recommended for children with Crohn's.

If your child has trouble eating, your doctor may recommend high-calorie, nutritionally complete liquid supplements. These can be used alone or together with regular food to increase your child's calorie intake. Another option for providing extra calories is the use of continuous liquid diet infusion at night. While your child is asleep, the formula is pumped through the nose into the stomach.

If you have concerns about your child's diet or weight, ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian. A registered dietitian can help you plan nutritionally balanced meals with adequate calories to meet the specific dietary needs of your child.

Last Updated: 07/24/2006
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