Irritable bowel, dementia and diet


Four years ago, a study found that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) had a higher risk of developing dementia.

Now a new study has found that people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease - have more than twice the risk of developing dementia and are likely to be diagnosed seven years earlier.  On average, they were diagnosed at age 76, compared to 83 among people without IBD and the greatest risk was for Alzheimers. 

According to lead researcher Dr Bing Zhang from the University of California in San Francisco, lifestyle factors such as diet could potentially explain the higher dementia risk among people with IBD. He said future research should dig further - looking, for example, at whether better control of IBD is tied to a lower dementia risk.

Our readers say (colitis, Crohn’s, IBS)

We support the RPAH diagnostic elimination diet from Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital allergy unit. 

According to RPAH researchers, IBD is not caused by food intolerance - so diet is not necessarily a cure - but it can certainly help to easy the symptoms, as some of members report below.

As well, many readers have reported success with the RPAH diet for IBS.

I had ulcerative colitis  …  I kept telling the doctors I thought it was something to do with food but I couldn't pinpoint what it was …  I stopped eating out, ate very simple food and got better … I asked my doctors, "Don't you want to hear about this because it could help someone else?" They weren't interested... I did the RPAH elimination diet and found I was sensitive to salicylates and amines … dairy foods, gluten and food additives could cause problems too. Sulphite preservatives in dried fruit were the worst – from story [883]
I have completed the elimination diet and found that I have an intolerance to salicylates. My father is a gastroenterologist and when I first had symptoms of this intolerance (stress, constipation, headaches, sinusitis etc) he thought it was Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). He referred me to his colleague, who also stated the diagnosis was IBS.  Both of these gastroenterologists never considered that the problem may be related to diet, and they didn't even know what salicylates were! I might add that both of them are very professional doctors and have both been head of the gastroenterology department at hospital - so you would think they would know something about it. It took my dad a long time to recognise that salicylates exist - I had to show him websites and papers that linked it to behavioural problems for him to really believe me … from story [537]

I’m 58 with severe salicylate intolerance and thankfully, my avoidance of sals over the last 7 months has "cured", or put me in remission, for ulcerative colitis … My GI doc said my recovery was remarkable … The stats I have discovered are that 7-10% of patients with UC or Crohn's have salicylate issues - if more docs knew this - they wouldn't give them meds which are...duh...salicylates. Thankfully, my doc listened to me and was willing to read my research - combined with real results - four years later: my ulcerative colitis is still fully in remission (I was diagnosed with moderate UC) -  Kathy from story [1473] two-year-old daughter... (was diagnosed with) Crohn's ...If we had not have found your article about Salicylates then she would have been put onto steroids...  Update 8 years later: My daughter with Crohn's is doing well … The funny thing is her Crohn's symptoms aren't really there anymore… – Shelley from story [1060]  and [1515]

Update after 5 years: the RPAH diet has helped me a lot … I still have Crohns disease diagnosis but …  I haven't had symptoms since I started the RPAH diet …  - Anne in [1567]

I am a 43 mother and have done the RPA elim diet. I have Colitis …  My big 3 "no-no's" are: annatto 160b, synthetic antioxidants such as BHA 320, and sorbates.  All of those cause cramping and diarrhoea – Kate from story [800]

I am in my 40's and it took a long time to discover that Annatto 160b is one of the triggers of ibs … – Hilary from story [1378]

A family member is intolerant to 160b. Diagnosed with IBS, Gastro-oesophageal reflux, oesophageal ulceration with associated anaemia from bleeding at 5 yrs and recommended steroids for life. All fixed by removing 160b …– Eve from story [1378]

About 6 weeks ago my wife (after 18 months of irritable bowel syndrome) decided to try A2 milk … Gut patterns are back to normal, a far cry from many daily urgent dashes to the loo, usually immediately after eating or drinking almost anything but particularly things containing dairy products … - Russell from story [955]

I had had IBS symptoms for 15 years … I was diagnosed with coeliac disease and followed a very strict gluten-free diet for 9 months with no improvement in my symptoms and was eventually given a blood test … the gastroenterologist finally referred me to a dietician to do the RPAH elimination diet and we discovered that removing salicylates and preservatives from my diet improved most of my symptoms – from story [549]

A few weeks ago I started having a Continental Low Carb instant soup every day … my stomach progressively got sicker and sicker. By the end of the week I could only lie on the lounge and visit the loo … no food for 3 days … I had one of those damn instant soups again and of course the same thing happened but worse – from story [382]

Key references

Inflammatory bowel disease is associated with higher dementia risk: a nationwide longitudinal study

Scientists link bowel inflammation to higher risk of dementia

Weizmann Institute researchers have found certain food additives affect the gut bacteria, the message is strong: avoid processed foods.

More info

Dementia and food additives – and other food intolerance symptoms in the elderly

Blog: gut bacteria affect brain function 

Blog: can food cause colitis?

Introduction to food intolerance

Find a supportive dietitian