An increase in the prevalence of immune-related disorders such as IBD can be attributed to the processed foods eaten in the modern Western diet, according to scientists from the University of Chicago.
Although IBD has a genetic component, lead author Eugene B. Chang, MD, said that more at-risk individuals are developing the disease—and this is due to the higher consumption of concentrated milk fats. These milk fats alter the “good” bacteria in the gut, and harmful bacterial strains produced in this environment can trigger an unregulated immune-mediated response.
The researchers worked with mice that had been genetically modified to have a predisposition for colitis. Nearly 25% of these mice developed the condition, but when the mice were exposed to a diet high in saturated milk fats, the rate of disease development within 6 months increased to more than 60%.
Researchers noticed that milk fats—which are difficult to digest and require the liver to secrete a bile rich in sulfur—caused an uncommon microbe called Bilophila wadsworthia
to flourish in the colon. The immune system was then activated by the proliferation of these harmful bacteria.
Dr. Chang noted that asking patients to change their lifestyle habits can be difficult, but “the balance between host and microbes can be altered back to a healthy state to prevent or treat these diseases.”
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