The rates of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), notably Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, have skyrocketed over the past 50 years, and many experts suspect diet might be to blame.
Earlier this year a group of European researchers published their findings from a recent prospective study titled “Dietary Patterns and Risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Europe: Results from the EPIC Study.”
Physicians are often too quick to dismiss the possible role of diet in causing and managing IBD, so it’s a nice surprise to see a whole group of medical doctors involved in the design and execution of this study.
Previous studies have investigated potential links between specific nutrients or foods and IBD but none have prospectively considered associations between dietary patterns (e.g. Mediterranean diet, Western diet) and IBD risks.
In this case, prospectively just means that participants answered questions about their diet before they were diagnosed with IBD versus asking them to try to remember what they ate years ago.
Roughly 360,000 healthy men and women aged 20-80 years old were selected from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study. All participants had completed in-depth questionnaires about their diets at baseline.
After nearly six years of follow-up 256 participants developed ulcerative colitis and 117 developed Crohn’s disease.
Turns out that the participants who ate a dietary pattern characterized by high intakes of sugar, sweets, soft drinks and low intakes of vegetables and fresh seafood were more likely to develop ulcerative colitis. The more sugar they ate, the higher their risk except if they also ate lots of vegetables. The vegetables seemed to defuse the harmful effects of consuming lots of sugar.
These findings support what we already know about healthy eating. People who eat more fruits and vegetables and less sugar and highly processed foods have lower rates of chronic disease.
Too few participants from this group developed Crohn’s disease to be able to detect a statistically significant relationship between dietary pattern and Crohn’s. Although, a previous study in children suggested that the Western diet, which is high in sugar and low in vegetables, was associated with an increased risk of Crohn’s.
What we eat directly affects gut inflammation, our immune system and our gut bacteria. Too much sugar contributes to inflammation and an imbalance of gut bacteria whereas the antioxidants and fiber from vegetables help fight disease and feed our good gut bacteria.
To learn more about your gut bacteria and how it affects your overall health, check out this short article from National Geographic, titled “What’s up with the Bacteria in Your Gut?”