A diet high in beneficial fats may help stem the growth of harmful gut bacteria that trigger the onset of Crohn’s disease, according to a study carried out by a team of researchers at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel syndrome that is characterized by intestinal cramps, diarrhea, and debilitating inflammation of the intestinal tract. The disease currently affects up to half a million people across the U.S. However, the scientific community maintains that the cause of the disease remains unclear, the experts report.
The research team examined the effects of plant-derived beneficial fats — such as coconut oil or cocoa butter — on animal models as part of the study. The scientists observed that the good fats significantly reduced the bacterial diversity in mice with Crohn’s-like disease. According to the researchers, mice models that are subjected to beneficial fatty diets exhibited up to 30 percent fewer kinds of gut bacteria compared with those that followed a normal diet. This in turn led to a relatively different gut microbiome composition in the animal models, the experts added.
The scientists observed that the marked changes in gut bacterial composition could be seen in the animals’ feces. Likewise, other altered bacterial species were observed in the cecum, a portion of the intestine that usually becomes swollen in Crohn’s disease patients. The research team also observed that even modest levels of beneficial fats may still promote gut health. According to the researchers, mice given low concentrations of coconut oil or cocoa butter exhibited less severe inflammation in the small intestine.
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“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. Patients would only need to replace a ‘bad’ fat with a ‘good’ fat, and eat normal amounts,” says Alexander Rodriguez-Palacios, study author and an assistant professor of medicine at the university.
The findings may help health care providers identify target bacteria to use in probiotics treatment to alleviate inflammatory bowel syndromes in affected patients, Rodriguez-Palacios says.
“Ongoing studies are now helping us to understand which component of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats make the difference in the gut microbes and make mice healthier. Ultimately, we aim to identify the ‘good’ fat-loving microbes for testing as probiotics,” Rodriguez-Palacios adds.
However, the expert has also cautioned that the findings may have varying effects on Crohn’s disease patients.
“Not all ‘good’ fats might be good in all patients. Mice indicate that each person could respond differently. But diet is something we are very hopeful could help at least some patients without the side-effects and risks carried by drugs. The trick now is to really discover what makes a fat ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for Crohn’s disease,” the expert explains.
The findings were presented at the annual Digestive Disease Week conference in Chicago in June 2017. The study serves as a pioneering research on the correlation between gut microbiome changes and overall intestinal health in Crohn’s disease patients. The study is also the first to demonstrate how high-fat diets can change gut bacteria composition in order to keep inflammation at bay. In addition, the research is one of the six studies accepted for scientific conference presentation that have been produced by the university.