Around 60,000 Australians live with a chronic inflammation in their bowel causing symptoms like severe cramps, nausea, and even bloody diarrhoea – not to mention a higher risk of bowel cancer. These are people with ulcerative colitis & Crohn's Disease – collectively known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD – two gut problems that are rising and which have scientists scratching their heads for a cause & a cure.
Unlike many chronic diseases that start at middle age, ulcerative colitis can begin early. Last month Melbourne researchers reported that the incidence of the disease in Victorian children had jumped 11-fold in the last 60 years, especially since the 1990s. It's a trend reflected in similar studies overseas. What's fuelling this increase in painful gut disease isn't clear but suspect number one is an interaction between genes and our lifestyle - possibly diet – that triggers an immune reaction that inflames the inner lining of the bowel.
The latest food to come under scrutiny, is saturated fat from milk. New research from the University of Chicago published in the journal Nature suggests a high intake of these fats may contribute to ulcerative colitis by disrupting bacteria in the gut – at least in mice that have been made genetically prone to the disease.
The researchers found that concentrated milk fats, used in some processed foods such as chocolate, pastries & biscuits alter the mix of bacteria in the intestines, increasing the numbers of potentially harmful bacteria called Bilophila wadsworthia. These microbes - which thrive on the type of bile the body produces to digest these fats - cause two problems. Besides acting on the immune system, they can make the gut lining more easily damaged.
Dr Michael Conlon, Senior Research Scientist with CSIRO Food and Nutritional Sciences says, "This isn't the first study to link dietary fat or dairy food with IBD. " Last year an article in the Journal of the American Dietetics Association looked at the perception of people with Crohn's Disease that dairy products exacerbated their disease. Dairy products with a high fat content were frequently reported to worsen perceived Crohn's Disease symptoms in that study," he says.
20 August 2012