High dietary 'good' fat changes gut bacteria in Crohn's patients

By Paul Basilio, MDLinx
Published June 26, 2017

Key Takeaways

A high-fat diet may cause changes to gut bacteria that could fight harmful inflammation, according to new research presented at Digestive Disease Week. The study from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is one of the first to identify specific changes in gut bacteria associated with Crohn’s disease.

Findings shows that a diet of plant-derived fats, such as coconut oil or cocoa butter, markedly reduced bacterial diversity in mice with a disease process similar to Crohn’s. Mice that were fed beneficial fatty diets showed approximately 30% fewer types of gut bacteria when compared with those fed a normal diet.

Some of the species changes were identified in feces, while others were different in the cecum, which commonly shows inflammation in Crohn’s disease. Mice fed even low concentrations of coconut oil or cocoa butter also had less severe small intestine inflammation.

“The finding is remarkable because it means that a Crohn’s patient could also have a beneficial effect on their gut bacteria and inflammation by only switching the type of fat in their diet,” said Alexander Rodriguez-Palacios, DVM, DVSc, PhD, first author on the study and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. “Patients would only need to replace a ‘bad’ fat with a ‘good’ fat, and eat normal amounts.”

Results could help doctors identify bacteria to use in probiotics that would benefit patients with inflammatory bowels 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,” Dr. Rodriguez-Palacios said. “Ultimately, we aim to identify the ‘good’ fat-loving microbes for testing as probiotics.”

The researchers anticipate their findings may have varying results from patient to patient.

“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 very hopeful could help at least some patients without the side-effects and risks carried by drugs. The trick now is to really discover what makes a fat ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for Crohn’s disease.”

For more information about the study, click here.

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