The Physicians’ Elemental Diet is a powdered elemental formula that is designed to manage various inflammatory digestive conditions.
These formulas are reconstituted with water and meant to be consumed as the sole source of nutrition short term.
However, you may wonder how the Physicians’ Elemental Diet works and what it consists of.
This article provides a detailed review of the Physicians’ Elemental Diet, discussing its potential benefits and side effects so you can determine whether it’s right for you.
What is the Physicians’ Elemental Diet?
Manufactured by Integrative Therapeutics, the Physicians’ Elemental Diet is a medical food product that contains nutrients in their elemental form.
This means that the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are in their simplest form to allow easy digestion and absorption.
The Physicians’ Elemental Diet protocol is a type of exclusive enteral nutrition diet, meaning it’s a liquid-only diet that provides all your nutrition needs orally or by a feeding tube.
However, the formula is not designed to be administered through a feeding tube.
The diet can also be used in partial enteral nutrition, where 50% or less of your calories come from the elemental formula and the remainder comes from food sources.
The Physicians’ Elemental Formula is designed to maintain nutritional status for up to four weeks.
Each one-scoop serving provides 150 calories, mostly from carbohydrates in the form of dextrose and maltodextrin.
If you have diabetes, a diabetes-friendly dextrose-free alternative is available.
One scoop also provides 27 vitamins and minerals in levels ranging from 3% to 167% of the daily value (DV).
As an elemental formula, the product supplies amino acids — including the nine essential amino acids that must be obtained from the diet — rather than intact proteins.
Physicians’ Elemental Diet is free from:
- lactose and dairy
- gluten and wheat
- sugar alcohols
- artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives
The directions recommend mixing one scoop with 8 ounces (240 mL) of water — but you can add more water as desired — and siping the mixture slowly over 15–60 minutes to assess your comfort level.
Unlike other elemental formulas, the Physicians’ Elemental Diet formula is flavored, offering a mild vanilla taste.
The mixed product can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours but should be stirred again prior to consumption.
After each use, close the package and store it in a dry place at room temperature.
As a medical food, Physicians’ Elemental Diet is only intended for use under the supervision of a care provider, such as a physician or registered dietitian.
For this reason, the package does not provide direction on the number of servings to take as each individual needs will vary and need to be determined by a registered dietitian.
The Physicians’ Elemental Diet is intended for people with inflammatory digestive conditions, including:
- small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- inflammatory bowel disease, namely Crohn’s disease
- eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE)
Beyond these conditions, the Physicians’ Elemental Diet may also help you lose weight if it allows you to consume fewer calories than your body needs, but that’s not its intended purpose.
SIBO is a condition in which excess bacteria grow in the small intestine and cause digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and excessive gas.
Although a low-FODMAP diet may be more effective for relieving these symptoms, some evidence suggests that an elemental diet may offer relief too.
In one study, 85% of patients who followed an elemental diet for 21 days experienced decreased bacteria levels in their small intestine, leading to improvements in bowel regularity and other digestive symptoms (1).
Unfortunately, beyond this small study, few studies have investigated the potential benefits of an elemental diet for normalizing the gut microbiota and relieving SIBO symptoms.
IBS is a disorder that leads to stomach discomfort and bowel changes.
Interestingly, those with IBS are nearly five times more likely to have SIBO compared with those without IBS (2).
Indeed, SIBO is believed to contribute to or worsen many of the symptoms commonly associated with IBS (1).
Owing to the link between IBS and SIBO, an elemental diet may help alleviate IBS symptoms by restoring the balance of healthy gut bacteria (1).
The evidence is strongest to support an elemental diet for Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects the small intestines, large intestines, or both.
In fact, an exclusive enteral diet — which may include elemental formulas — has been shown to induce remission in 80–85% of children and adolescents with Crohn’s disease (3).
The use of elemental formulas with an exclusive enteral nutrition diet is less studied in adults with Crohn’s disease.
However, one study showed that exclusive enteral nutrition with polymeric formulas is effective in inducing remission in adults with active Crohn’s disease (4).
Polymeric formulas contain whole proteins, carbohydrates, and fat rather than these nutrients in their elemental forms.
However, an elemental diet is likely just as effective as polymeric formulas for inducing remission in both children and adults but the latter tends to be preferred for cost, availability, and palatability reasons (5, 6).
Exclusive enteral nutrition — either with elemental or polymeric formulas — isn’t commonly needed for people with ulcerative colitis, the other major type of inflammatory bowel disease.
EoE is an inflammatory condition that affects the esophagus.
It can cause vomiting, stomach pain, and difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia.
An elimination diet — specifically a six-food elimination diet — is generally the first line of treatment for EoE since it’s driven by food allergens.
However, as a hypoallergenic product, the Physicians’ Elemental Diet may also be effective for reducing inflammation and improving symptoms.
In fact, one review of 33 studies involving more than 1,300 patients, most of who were children, showed that an elemental diet significantly reduced the number of eosinophils in 91% of patients (7).
Eosinophils are a type of white blood cell, that when chronically elevated, promote inflammation and cause injury to the esophagus.
While potentially beneficial for various inflammatory conditions that affect the digestive tract, there are downsides to the Physicians’ Elemental Diet to consider.
As a specialty medical food product, the Physicians’ Elemental Diet product is priced as such.
It’s available in two package sizes.
The smaller package size contains 12 servings for $58 ($4.83 per serving), while the larger one provides 36 servings for $125 ($3.47 per serving).
Since one scoop provides only 150 calories, you would need about 14 servings each day to meet the standard 2,000-calorie guideline.
This translates to around $49–$68 daily, depending on which package size you purchase.
Of course, you may need fewer calories, and the formula may be your sole source of nutrition so you wouldn’t have other food expenses, but the diet can be costly nonetheless.
The Physicians’ Elemental Diet is generally followed for 2–3 weeks but it can be used as your sole nutrition source for up to four weeks.
As such, the diet is only a short-term solution for managing the inflammatory digestive conditions for which it is designed.
Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of these conditions tend to return once you reintroduce solid foods.
However, you may be able to prolong remission by slowly reintroducing foods, one at a time, to assess your tolerance to certain foods.
The Physicians’ Elemental Diet can be a more long-term solution if it comprises around 50% of your calories and other foods that you tolerate comprise the rest.
Difficult to follow
An all-liquid diet like the Physicians’ Elemental Diet can be challenging to stick with for the duration needed to experience its benefits.
Meals and snacks look a lot different when you’re drinking them, especially with coworkers, friends, and family.
The taste and texture of elemental formulas also tend to be poorly tolerated, adding to the difficulties of sticking with the diet.
However, the Physicians’ Elementa Diet formula is flavored, making it more tolerated than alternative elemental formulas.
But just as allowing the diet to comprise around half of your calories and whole foods the remainder can potentially allow you to experience longer symptom relief, doing so may also make the diet easier to stick with.
Not clinically tested
Although the Physicians’ Elemental Diet formula is similar to those used in clinical trials, it hasn’t been clinically researched for the conditions it suggests it can manage.
As such, the results of those studies using a different elemental formula may not always translate to what will happen with the Physicians’ Elemental Diet formula.
Still, as long as the protein, carbohydrates, and fats are provided in their elemental form, regardless of the formula, the therapeutic effects of the Physicians’ Elemental Diet are likely similar to other elemental formulas.
The only major difference between the Physicians’ Elemental Diet formula and other elemental formulas is likely to be the presence and composition of certain vitamins and minerals or the percentage of calories provided by amino acids, carbs, and fats.
Potential for adverse side effects
The Physicians’ Elemental Diet is likely safe with a low risk of adverse side effects when followed under medical supervision.
However, some side effects such as heartburn, diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive gas have been reported with an elemental diet (8).
The potential for these side effects to occur — and the frequency and severity in which they occur — likely depend on your individual health status and food intolerances.
Remember that you shouldn’t follow the Physicians’ Elemental Diet longer than four weeks.
Following the diet longer than this without symptom relief likely means that the diet isn’t effective for you.
It may also cause more harm than good if followed too long since it contains no fiber.
A lack of fiber can worsen some inflammatory digestive conditions since fiber promotes a healthy gut and reduces intestinal inflammation (9).
Should you try it?
The Physicians’ Elemental Diet may be helpful for managing certain inflammatory digestive conditions, including SIBO, IBS, Crohn’s disease, and EoE.
As such, if struggle to manage one or more of these conditions, the diet may be worth trying.
However, keep in mind that the diet is designed only to be followed under the care of a medical provider.
Attempting to follow the diet on your own may lead to nutrient deficiencies and worsen digestive symptoms.
If you wish to try the diet, you can purchase the Physicians’ Elemental Diet directly through the manufacturer’s — Integrative Therapeutics — website at Integrativepro.com.
The product may also be available for purchase from select integrative medicine clinics and wellness centers, but not Amazon.
The bottom line
The Physicians’ Elemental Diet is a powdered elemental formula that is designed to be nutritionally adequate when taken in appropriate amounts.
It may help manage various inflammatory digestive conditions, including SIBO, IBS, Crohn’s disease, and EoE.
However, the diet can be relatively costly, difficult to follow, and may cause minor adverse side effects.
It’s also not clinically tested and is more of a short-term solution, designed to be followed for up to four weeks.
If you decide to try the Physicians’ Elemental Diet, make sure to do so under the guidance of a healthcare provider such as a physician or registered dietitian.