Although defined formula diets may be useful for initial episodes of Crohn's disease, the effects of these diets on subsequent attacks of Crohn's disease or in conjunction with corticosteroids are unknown. To evaluate these issues, we studied 27 patients in a randomized prospective trial. Ten patients received only prednisone (group I), nine received only a defined formula diet (Vital HN [high nitrogen]) (group II), and eight received a combination of prednisone and Vital HN (group III). At the time of entry into the study, the groups were similar with respect to age, sex, Crohn's Disease Activity Index, previous and current treatments, anatomic site of disease, and nutritional status. After 1 month of treatment, we noted seven successes (70%) and three failures in group I (prednisone only), three successes (33%) and six failures in group II (Vital HN only), and six successes (75%) and two failures in group III (combination therapy). Four patients randomized to receive only Vital HN were unable or unwilling to tolerate the defined formula diet. Of the five patients who were able to take the defined formula diet for 1 month, however, three (60%) were successfully treated. The patients who received prednisone (groups I and III) responded better than did the patients who received only the defined formula diet. These results may be attributable to the use of a nonelemental diet or the treatment of patients who were not experiencing an initial attack of Crohn's disease or who had previously received corticosteroids. The expensive and often poorly tolerated defined formula diets should not be considered as a substitute for standard therapy with corticosteroids in Crohn's disease.
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