- Current research reveals that certain types of saturated fats prominent in Western diets may alter gut bacteria, potentially triggering inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, in genetically susceptible individuals.
- These findings offer a possible explanation as to why many individuals genetically predisposed to the condition do not develop it, and how specific environmental factors may cause inflammation in those at risk.
- In a study using mice, it was discovered that concentrated milk fats found in processed foods and sweets can disproportionately alter the bacterial composition within the intestines, potentially leading to a harmful overreaction of the immune system.
- However, this reaction was not observed with polyunsaturated fats typically derived from plant-based foods.
- Despite the genetic and dietetic factors leading to inflammatory bowel disease, the balance between host and microbes could be restored to a healthy state to prevent or treat such conditions, enabling individuals who are genetically prone to maintain their lifestyle without significant impact.
Current research reveals that certain types of saturated fats prevalent in the Western diet might alter gut bacteria, potentially triggering inflammatory bowel disease in individuals genetically susceptible to the disorder. This discovery is the result of a study focusing on the mouse model.
The Link between Saturated Fats and Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease encompasses a range of disorders including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Researchers from the University of Chicago suggest that their findings provide key insights into why immune-system-related disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease, have witnessed a marked increase in incidence in Westernized nations over the past fifty years, once considered a rarity.
Navigating the Genetics of the Condition
The results of the study offer a possible explanation as to why many individuals genetically predisposed to the condition do not develop it, and how specific environmental factors may cause inflammation in those at risk. It is important to note, however, that while the study was conducted on animals, similar results may not be guaranteed in humans.
The Milk Factor in the Study
Upon conducting experiments on mice with traits of human inflammatory bowel disease, the researchers discovered that concentrated milk fats can alter the bacterial composition within the intestines. These changes have the potential to disrupt the delicate balance between the immune system and the predominantly beneficial variety of gut bacteria.
An incursion of harmful bacteria can incite an uncontrolled and damaging immune-system response that is complex to deactivate, as reported in an article published online in the journal Nature. Concentrated milk fats that lead to this response are a common ingredient in processed foods and sweets, according to the researchers.
The Role of Polyunsaturated Fats
Interestingly, the same response was not apparent with polyunsaturated fats, which are predominantly derived from plant-based foods and oils.
“The research provides the first plausible mechanism demonstrating how Western-style diets could be contributing to the rapid and significant increase in the incidence of inflammatory bowel disease,” explained study author Dr. Eugene Chang, a professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.
Moving Forward with the Findings
Dr. Chang stated that while a person’s genetic predisposition may increase the risk for such diseases, a second event induced by our changing lifestyle seems to be required to transition from mere increased risk to the actual development of the disease.
Changing one’s genes or diet to prevent inflammatory bowel disease presents its challenges, according to Chang. However, he suggested that the balance between host and microbes can be modified back to a healthy state to prevent or treat these diseases. The gut microbiome can be ‘reshaped’ in ways that restore a harmonious relationship between host and microbes without significantly impacting the lifestyles of individuals who are genetically prone to these diseases.
For more details about inflammatory bowel disease, consider visiting The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.