Over the years, there has been more research into the impact of diet and nutrition on our overall health. How does what we eat – and how it was prepared – ultimately influence our bodies? One particular study sought to understand how eating processed or unprocessed food impacted the risk of developing Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (UC).
According to an article in MedPage Today, the researchers chose to pursue this line of study for a few different reasons. First, there have been previous links made between inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) risk and diet, such as high consumption of sugary drinks or fried food contributing to a higher risk. Next, rates of IBD (which includes both Crohn’s disease and UC) has risen significantly over the years. Finally, people around the globe have been eating more processed and ultra-processed food.
Understanding the Study
Within this study, published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the research team sourced data from 413,590 healthy participants within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort. The researchers stratified participants into various categories based on the level of processed food that they consumed and adjusted for factors such as age, sex, physical activity, and more. Findings show that:
- When looking at a median follow-up period of 13.2 years, 0.1% of participants had developed UC. A smaller 0.043% of patients had developed Crohn’s disease.
- There seemed to be a positive correlation between patients who developed Crohn’s disease and those who tended to consume higher amounts of processed food. However, there was no observed association between consumption and overall risk.
- Eating more fruits and vegetables was associated with a lower risk of developing Crohn’s disease.
- While eating unprocessed or low-processed foods correlated with a reduced Crohn’s disease risk, eating this diet was not associated with a reduced UC risk.
- Researchers believe that those who are at a higher risk of developing Crohn’s disease, such as those with a family history of this condition, could benefit from an unprocessed or low-processed diet.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease, alongside ulcerative colitis, sits under the larger umbrella of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This condition causes chronic gastrointestinal tract inflammation. While it can impact any portion of the digestive tract, it most commonly affects the colon and ileum. This disease can affect people of all ages, but is often diagnosed in younger individuals and those between ages 20-30. The causes of Crohn’s disease are not well understood. Risk factors include being Caucasian, being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, smoking cigarettes, living in an industrialized area, and using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.
People with Crohn’s disease experience symptomatic periods, as well as periods of remission. Severity differs from patient to patient. Potential symptoms can (but do not always) include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Skin, joint, eye, liver, and bile duct inflammation
- Delayed growth or sexual development
- Mouth sores
- Unintended weight loss
- Anal pain or drainage
- Bloody stool
- Appetite loss