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Inflammatory bowel disease drugs can increase leukemia risk by 700%

Inflammatory bowel disease

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(NaturalNews) One class of drugs used to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may increase the risk of blood and bone marrow diseases sevenfold, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University Hospital of Nancy-Brabois in France and published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

The drugs studied, known as thiopurines, are intended to provide symptomatic relief and reduce flare-ups by reducing inflammation.

"In order to make appropriate, informed decisions about thiopurines, patients and providers need to be well-educated about the risks and benefits of this treatment," researcher Laurent Peyrin-Biroulet, MD, PhD, said.

"We hope these findings encourage other researchers to investigate more about the drug[s] and [their] potentially harmful effects."

Sevenfold increase in risk

IBD is an umbrella term for a variety of conditions and is most commonly used to describe Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. These separate conditions are united by a pattern of alternating flare-ups or relapses (characterized by inflammation and irritation of the bowels, with digestive and other symptoms) and periods of remission which are symptom-free.

Crohn's disease is characterized by inflammation and ulceration of the deep layers of the intestinal wall. Patients typically suffer from abdominal pain (particularly in the lower right side), diarrhea, weight loss and sometimes bleeding. Ulcerative colitis is characterized by inflammation of the inner lining of the colon or rectum and is also marked by abdominal cramps, diarrhea and bleeding.

For the current study, researchers examined 19,486 people who were participating in the Cancers Et Surrisque Associe aux Maladies inflammatoires intestinales En France study, which took place between May 2004 and June 2005. Three years later, the researchers followed up to see which patients had been diagnosed with incident myeloid disorders, including myeloid leukemia and the bone marrow disorder myelodysplastic syndrome.

In that time, five of the patients had developed an myeloid disorder. Four of them had previously been exposed to thiopurines. Among patients exposed to thiopurines, the rate of myeloid disorders was seven times higher than expected; in contrast, the rate was no higher than expected among patients not exposed to the drugs. This suggests that it is the drugs, rather than IBD, that raises the risk of leukemia and bone marrow diseases.

Alternative treatments may be safer

Although the absolute risk of myeloid disorders was still small even in patients who took thiopurines, the researchers noted that IBD patients should be made aware of all their treatment options, including nutrition.

According to the American Gastroenterological Association, which publishes Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, eating certain foods and avoiding others can help prevent or lessen symptoms during IBD flare-ups.

Studies have also suggested that supplementing with certain nutrients may also help prevent IBD or IBD flare-ups. A 2011 study conducted by researchers from the Innlandet Hospital Trust in Norway and published in the journal Nutrition Research, for example, found that higher vitamin B6 intake in IBD patients was associated with less frequent and less severe disease symptoms.

Vitamin D in particular has shown promise as a way to prevent and treat IBD, perhaps due to its effect in regulating the immune system (Crohn's disease in particular is suspected of being an autoimmune disorder).

Finally, at least one study -- conducted by researchers from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, and published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2008 -- found that hypnosis could reduce the inflammation associated with ulcerative colitis.

"This work shows that a single short session of hypnosis can return some of the chemical changes in the bowel associated with inflammation back towards normal in patients with ulcerative colitis," senior researcher Dr. David S. Rampton said.

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