The idea of eating a strict, all-or-nothing carbohydrate diet is not new, but the latest evidence suggests that a strict carbohydrate diet can reduce inflammation and improve gut health.
The idea comes from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which used the Atkins Diet, a diet focused on the low-carbohydrate, low-fat diet.
Researchers from the University of California, Davis, recruited 1,000 healthy participants to eat a standard diet for seven days, with no carbs or fats.
At the end of the study, participants were given an optional exercise plan, and they were told to avoid eating any carbohydrates, fat, or sugar for three weeks.
The study also found that the participants on the Atkins diet experienced fewer signs of colitis.
But the researchers also found the participants who were not on the strict diet experienced a significantly reduced risk of contracting a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
And it turns out that this reduction in inflammatory bowel symptoms was associated with a decrease in the number of bacteria living in the colon.
The research suggests that people who eat a high-carb diet may be less susceptible to the disease, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, abdominal cramps, and other symptoms.
The researchers found that a person who is on a high carbohydrate diet has a 1.2-to-1 increase in the likelihood of contracting IBD, compared to those who were on a low- or no-carb weight loss diet.
And they also found a significant reduction in IBD risk after the diet, with participants on a diet having a 0.4-to, 1.6-to and 0.6–to increase in their risk of developing the disease.
“We think the diet has some effects on the gut microbiota, but we don’t know whether those effects are directly related to the specific carbohydrate content or to how the diet affects inflammation,” says researcher Laura Pang, the lead author of the paper.
Pang is a professor of nutrition at UC Davis and is a member of the UC Davis Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Gastroenterology Program.
Her study is based on data from the American Diabetes Association’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which collects data on the diet and diet-related health conditions.
PANG and her colleagues recruited 1.4 million participants in the United States from 2010 to 2015.
In the study participants were randomly assigned to a diet consisting of either a low or high carbohydrate intake.
After three weeks of the diet the participants were assessed for the development of IBD.
The participants on each diet were asked to complete a questionnaire that assessed their gut bacteria and the symptoms they experienced.
Then the researchers took the participants’ blood samples and measured the levels of inflammatory markers, including COX-2, C-reactive protein (CRP), and IL-1, which is linked to inflammation.
Participants were also asked to rate their diet and the overall quality of their diet.
Finally, they were asked about their health behaviors.
Overall, participants on low- and high-sugar diets had a greater risk of IBS symptoms than participants on other diets.
But when the researchers compared the results of participants on different types of diets, they found that participants on both low and high sugar diets were significantly less likely to develop IBD after a six-month period.
They also found an increased risk of the disease after the six-week diet, compared with the participants consuming a standard high-protein diet.
The authors say that the results suggest that the Atkins-style diet may have some health benefits, but they also note that the study was small, and the participants in it had not been blinded to diet composition.
They say that more research is needed to determine whether the Atkins’ diet will benefit individuals with colitis or IBD or if other factors are responsible.
“This study provides some important new insights on the impact of diet on the development and progression of IBD, but more research will be needed to explore the mechanisms,” Pang says.
She adds that there is a lot of variation in people’s risk of having IBD and it is important to know the actual risk.
“People with IBD should avoid carbohydrate-rich diets and consume a diet that is low in carbohydrate and high in fiber,” PANG says.