Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a term used to describe a group of disorders involving chronic inflammation of the gut. The most well known are two long term conditions known as Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and Crohn's Disease (CD) for which there is no known cure and can lead onto a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. According to new research the number of sufferers is three times higher than previously thought.
The researchers involved in the study looked at data compiled by a nationally represented UK primary care database called The Health Improvement Network (THIN) between 2000 and 2017. It showed that the prevalence of UC and CD had risen by 55% and 83% respectively and is likely to rise further over the next decade.
The problem of IBD is compounded by its association with colorectal cancer - the study found that those with Crohn's had a 23% increased risk of developing the cancer while those with ulcerative colitis had an increased risk of 43%.
These results can only be considered alarming due to the lifelong nature of the diseases that can begin at a young age, have a huge impact on quality of life and require complicated and costly treatments.
The Mediterranean Diet can help
A dutch research team, led by Laura Bolte from the University Medical Center Groningen, found that certain foods could provide provide protection for the gut by boosting bacteria with anti-inflammatory properties.
These findings are in line with previous research supporting the notion that Mediterranean or plant-based diets could be effective in managing digestive disorders by influencing gut bacteria.
The types of food associated with high levels of gut friendly bacteria include legumes, vegetables, bread, fish, nuts and red wine. They are all involved in the synthesis of essential nutrients and short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which are the main source of energy for cells lining the colon.
There were four study groups involved in the research: the general population, patients with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Stools samples from each participant were analysed in order to determine that person's gut bacteria and it was compared with the results of a food frequency survey.
The results showed that diets high in bread, legumes, fish and nuts were associated with a decrease in harmful bacteria as well as lower levels of inflammatory markers known to rise during intestinal inflammation.
Diets high in meat, fast foods and refined sugar were associated with a decrease in beneficial bacteria and an increase in inflammatory markers. Specifically red wine, legumes, vegetables, fruit, cereals, fish and nuts were associated with an abundance of anti-inflammatory bacteria, while plant-based diets were found to be associated with high levels of bacterial SCFA production.
Further to this, plant protein was found to aid in the synthesis of vitamins and amino acids as well as breaking down sugar alcohols.
The report concluded:
"A diet characterised by nuts, fruit, greater vegetable and legume intake than animal protein, combined with moderate consumption of animal derived foods like fish, lean meat, poultry, fermented low fat diary, and red wine, and a lower intake of red meat, processed meat and sweets, is beneficially associated with the gut ecosystem in our study."