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High fat diet reduces gut bacteria, Crohn’s disease symptoms

High fat diet reduces gut bacteria, Crohn's disease symptomsResults could lead to new anti-inflammatory probiotics

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have shown a high fat diet may lead to specific changes in gut bacteria that could fight harmful inflammation — a major discovery for patients suffering from Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel syndrome, causes debilitating intestinal swelling, cramping, and diarrhea. The disease affects half a million people in the United States, but its cause is yet unclear.

In the new study, a diet of plant-derived “good” fats, including coconut oil or cocoa butter, drastically reduced bacterial diversity in mice with Crohn’s-like disease. Mice fed beneficial fatty diets had up to thirty percent fewer kinds of gut bacteria as those fed a normal diet, collectively resulting in a very different gut microbial composition.

The study is one of the first to identify specific changes in gut bacteria — our microbiome — associated with Crohn’s disease and first to show how high fat diets can alter gut bacteria to combat inflammation. Rodriguez-Palacios presented his results at the annual Digestive Disease Week® conference in Chicago, Illinois earlier this month. The study was one of six accepted for presentation at the conference out of the laboratory of Fabio Cominelli, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Pathology at Case Western Reserve University, and Division Chief of Gastroenterology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

Results from the study could help doctors identify bacteria to use in probiotics to treat patients suffering from inflammatory bowel syndromes. “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,” Rodriguez-Palacios said.

The researchers anticipate their findings may have varying effects for patients. “Not all ‘good’ fats might be good in all patients,” Rodriguez-Palacios cautioned. “Mice indicate that each person could respond differently. But diet is something we are hopeful could help some patients without the side-effects and risks carried by drugs. The trick now is to discover what makes a fat ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for Crohn’s disease.”

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