(NaturalNews) A growing number of studies are implicating high dietary intake of meat and omega-6 fatty acids as a significant risk factor in the development of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, while also suggesting that higher vitamin D levels may lower the risk.
One study, conducted by researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2011, reviewed the results of 19 separate studies conducted on a total of 2,609 IBD patients and 4,000 controls.
The researchers found that people with the highest intake of fruits and dietary fiber were the least likely to develop Crohn's disease. People most likely to develop the disease were those with the greatest dietary intake of saturated fat, mono and polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and meat. Similarly, ulcerative colitis risk was greatest among those with the highest intake of fat, polyunsaturated fat, omega-6 fatty acids and meat. Higher vegetable consumption reduced the risk.
Another study, conducted by researchers from Osaka University and published in the journal Nutrition in 2011, found that patients with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis had significantly lower blood levels of vitamin D than healthy controls. They were also more likely to have insufficiency of vitamin K, which also plays a role in bone health, and which is obtained primarily from leafy green vegetables.
For IBD, prevention is essential
Approximately two out of every 1,000 people in the United States suffer from ulcerative colitis, which is characterized by inflammation of the interior layer of the rectum and large intestine. Adults in their 20s and 30s are most likely to develop the disease, although it can occur in childhood or older adulthood as well.
Crohn's disease, which can affect any part of the intestine and typically spreads deeper into the tissues and ulcerative colitis, is a much rarer disease. Approximately two to seven of every 100,000 people are affected, with the disease usually developing between the ages of 20 and 40.
Scientists remain unsure exactly what mechanisms triggers IBD, and there is currently no known cure, making studies into the risk factors underlying the disease all the more essential
IBD is characterized by alternating periods of symptom flares and symptom-free remission. Although the specific symptoms vary by disease, IBD flares commonly include severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Because it hampers the body's ability to absorb nutrients, IBD can place patients at risk of malnutrition.
In severe cases, patients may choose to treat IBD through surgical removal of the colon, although even this is not a complete cure. Yet many more patients turn instead to lifestyle changes and complementary and alternative therapies to help them manage the disease.
Indeed, research has found that avoiding sugars and saturated fats and eating more fruits and vegetables may significantly improve the symptoms of IBD. In some cases, strict adherence to dietary and lifestyle changes may actually cause long-term remission of the disease.