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Good' fat diet reduces gut bacteria, symptoms of Crohn's disease

Researchers suggest that a "good" high fat diet may lead to specific changes in gut bacteria that could fight harmful inflammation and reduce symptoms of Crohn's disease, a major discovery for patients suffering from chronic inflammatory bowel disorder.

Crohn's disease affects the lining of the digestive tract and causes debilitating intestinal swelling, cramping and diarrhoea. In the new study, a diet of plant-derived "good" fats, including coconut oil or cocoa butter, drastically reduced bacterial diversity in mice with Crohn's-like disease.

Mice fed beneficial fatty diets had up to thirty per cent fewer kinds of gut bacteria as those fed a normal diet, collectively resulting in a very different gut microbial composition.

Some of the species changes showed up in faeces, while others were different in cecum, a portion of the intestine commonly inflamed in Crohn's disease.

Mice fed even low concentrations of coconut oil or cocoa butter also had less severe small intestine inflammation, according to the study.

"The finding is remarkable because it means that a Crohn's patient could also have a beneficial effect on their gut bacteria and inflammation by only switching the type of fat in their diet," said first author on the study Alexander Rodriguez-Palacios, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in in Cleveland, Ohio, US.

"Patients would only need to replace a 'bad' fat with a 'good' fat, and eat normal amounts," Rodriguez-Palacios said.

The researchers, however, anticipate that their findings may have varying effects for patients.

"Not all 'good' fats might be good in all patients," cautioned Rodriguez-Palacios, adding that mice indicate that each person could respond differently, and the trick now is to really discover what makes a fat 'good' or 'bad' for Crohn's disease.

The researchers hope results from the study could help doctors identify bacteria to use in probiotics to treat patients suffering from inflammatory bowel syndromes.

The findings were presented at the annual Digestive Disease Week conference in Chicago.
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