Ultra-processed foods are associated with a higher risk

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A new study warns of a strong link between higher mortality in highly processed foods and the risk of Crohn’s disease. Photo credit: Luis Davilla/Getty Images.
  • A new study finds that people who eat more ultra-processed foods and unprocessed foods are more likely to develop Crohn’s disease, a condition whose exact causes are not yet understood.
  • Ultra-processed foods include a variety of commercially produced items that are increasingly found in diets in the United States and around the world.
  • Experts believe that such foods upset the balance of bacteria in the colon, leading to inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

It’s not clear what causes Crohn’s disease, which is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in which the gut becomes inflamed. Experts think it may be a combination of genetic and environmental factors involving the immune system.

A new study by researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, is something more specific.

Researchers have found a strong association between consuming large amounts of ultra-processed foods and an increased risk of Crohn’s disease.

The new study is actually a systematic review and meta-analysis of five existing cohort studies conducted between 2020 and 2022.

They investigated a link between these foods and inflammatory bowel disease — including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis — and involved more than 1 million people.

Researchers found no significant link between ultra-processed foods and ulcerative colitis.

Meta-analysis appears in Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology.

Ultra-processed foods, or UPFs, are foods that are low in dietary fiber, high in saturated fat, contain simple sugars, and include additives such as emulsifiers.

Commercially produced, packaged foods often have UVA protection factor in them.

Examples include:

  • Processed proteins, such as chicken nuggets and sausage
  • Cold breakfast cereal
  • Soft drinks
  • sauce products
  • Snack chips
  • sundae
  • Biscuits and some types of bread
  • fruit drinks
  • Refined sweetened foods, such as energy bars, candy, chocolate, jams, jellies, puddings, brownies, and cakes.

According to the United States National Institutes of HealthMore than half a million people in the United States suffer from Crohn’s disease.

The risk of developing Crohn’s disease is increased in people who have a family member with Crohn’s disease, and in people who smoke.

Some of the more common Crohn’s symptoms are:

  • persistent diarrhoea
  • rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Urgency of bowel movements
  • A feeling of incomplete bowel movements
  • May cause constipation.

As a result, loss of appetite is common, as is weight loss, lack of energy, and fatigue. In children, Crohn’s disease can cause developmental delays.

While acknowledging that he does not have Crohn’s disease personally, Dr. Andrew Gewirtz, MD, a University Center professor at Georgia State University who specializes in research on innate immunity, the microbiome, gut inflammation, and obesity/diabetes, who was not involved in the study, acknowledges:

“My way of trying to think of what life might be like for them [people with Crohn’s]And [is that] I try to imagine that, without known warning or provocation, my body will react as if I had acute gastrointestinal food poisoning that would completely debilitate me for weeks on end.”

Crohn’s disease can also cause complications outside of the gastrointestinal tract. In extreme cases, surgery may be indicated.

Some research It indicates that, with some treatments, Crohn’s disease can recede, with the digestive system returning to normal for long periods of time. It is also the condition in which spontaneous remission of Crohn’s occurs for some people.

The recent study suggests that the link between UPFs and Crohn’s may be microbiome dysbiosis, an imbalance of the microorganisms that live in the gut.

Most processed foods lack the fiber needed to feed the microbiota and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship between the host and the microbiota. “Many, if not most, processed foods contain detergent-like molecules called ’emulsifiers’ that help with texture and shelf life,” Dr. Gwertz explained.

Dr. Gewertz’s research has shown that emulsifiers in UPFs interfere with microbiota formation and gene expression. They encourage bacteria to encroach on the sterile inner mucosa of the colon, leading to inflammation.

Dr. Michael A. Kam, a gastroenterologist who was not involved in the study: “We’ve inundated chemical food additives in ultra-processed foods.”

Cases of Crohn’s disease are increasing in the United States and around the world for reasons that aren’t yet fully understood.

However, this increase coincides with “shifts in human gut microbiomes primarily observed in industrialized, technologically advanced, and economically affluent societies,” explained Dr. Eugene P. Chang, professor of biological sciences at the University of Chicago, who was not involved in the study. , who specializes in the gut microbiome.

This trend has been associated with the emergence of many complex immunological, metabolic, neural, and Oncology Disorders that were previously less common, or rare, 150 years ago,” said Dr. Chang.

He added that such an “alarming” increase in such disorders over a very short period of time could only logically be attributed to changes in diet, lifestyle, environment and overuse of antibiotics, rather than some kind of genetic drift in the global population.

For people who have already been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease or are experiencing symptoms of the condition, the study results may have arrived too late to offer much help.

“This does not mean that once Crohn’s disease has developed, reducing intake of ultra-processed foods will improve inflammation,” cautioned the study’s lead author, Dr. Neeraj Narula.

Because Crohn’s disease is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 29, a young person hoping to avoid the disease — or simply interested in helping maintain a healthy microbiome — might consider avoiding ultra-processed foods.

According to Dr. Narula, Crohn’s has a long preclinical phase where adopting healthy eating habits may help change the course of your gut health.

Dr. Kam suggested a simple rule to stick to when choosing a meal: “Fresh is best.”

Dr. Narula hopes his findings will help the search for more reliably effective Crohn’s management techniques.

“Studies have been exploring new diets for Crohn’s disease, including diets that do not allow ultra-processed foods or minimally, and these should help us understand the role of diet management for Crohn’s disease in the coming years,” he said.