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14.04.2020 11:30

Polyunsaturated fatty acids trigger inflammation of the bowel, similar to Crohn's disease

Doris Heidegger Press and public relations
Medical University Innsbruck

The incidence of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis has risen sharply in recent years. In addition to genetic components, a central causal role is ascribed to the western diet. Innsbruck researchers have investigated which components of the complex composition of food are the driving force. The first surprising results are now available which show that polyunsaturated fatty acids in a Western diet can trigger an inflammatory reaction in the intestine. The journal Nature Communications reports.

Innsbruck, April 14, 2020: People with Crohn's disease - around 27,000 of them live in Austria - suffer from inflammation of the intestinal mucosa from symptoms such as cramping abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, as well as fistulas and abscesses. The chronic, often progressive disease can be treated symptomatically, but not yet cured. Although there are around 300 identified genetic variants that influence the risk of developing IBD, genetics can only explain a small part of the diseases.

“Migration studies have revealed that the Western diet plays a central role in the development of inflammatory bowel disease. For example, the low IBD rate of Japanese people who emigrated to the USA around 20 years ago has already adapted to the North American population after a few years, ”says Herbert Tilg, a recognized expert in the field of intestinal diseases and director of the Univ.- Clinic for Internal Medicine I at the Medical University of Innsbruck. However, it has not yet been clarified which individual components in a Western diet make you sick.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids cause inflammation in the intestines

The complex composition of the diet is proving to be a major challenge for research into the causes of inflammatory bowel disease. A team led by Lisa Mayr, Felix Grabherr and Timon Adolph is researching inflammatory processes in the bowel at the Department of Internal Medicine I. “In our search for inflammatory food components, we took a new approach: For our laboratory tests, we put together a diet that corresponds to the composition of a Western diet. Not only saturated fatty acids, but also polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are found in large quantities in meat, various oils and eggs, were enriched in a diet and fed to laboratory mice for three months, ”says Adolph. In their research, which has just been published in Nature Communications, the scientists were able to show that polyunsaturated fatty acids in particular cause an inflammatory reaction in the intestine that is similar to the picture of Crohn's disease in humans. The inflammatory signals are generated by intestinal epithelial cells, the intestinal barrier, and controlled by an anti-oxidative enzyme called glutathione peroxidase 4 (GPX4). GPX4, the activity of which is inhibited by polyunsaturated fatty acids, protects intestinal epithelial cells from oxidative stress on membrane lipids and thus prevents the triggering of an inflammatory response.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are partially fortified in foods or taken as dietary supplements. The proof that polyunsaturated fatty acids trigger intestinal inflammation is therefore particularly explosive. "A translation of these findings for humans still needs to be done in order to be able to draw conclusions for IBD patients," emphasizes Timon Adolph, who and his team will continue to research the elucidation of these inflammatory mechanisms.

Scientific contact: Timon Adolph PhD
University Clinic for Internal Medicine I
Email: [email protected]

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Features of this press release:
Biology, nutrition / health / care, medicine
research results