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High Fat Diet Reduces Gut Bacteria, Crohn’s Disease Symptoms

Results could lead to new anti-inflammatory probiotics

June 22, 2017

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have shown a high fat diet may lead to specific changes in gut bacteria that could fight harmful inflammation—a major discovery for patients suffering from Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel syndrome, causes debilitating intestinal swelling, cramping, and diarrhea. The disease affects half a million people in the United States, but its cause is yet unclear.

In the new study, a diet of plant-derived “good” fats, including coconut oil or cocoa butter, drastically reduced bacterial diversity in mice with Crohn’s-like disease. Mice fed beneficial fatty diets had up to thirty percent fewer kinds of gut bacteria as those fed a normal diet, collectively resulting in a very different gut microbial composition. Some of the species changes showed up in feces, while others were different in cecum, a portion of the intestine commonly inflamed 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.”

The study is one of the first to identify specific changes in gut bacteria—our microbiome—associated with Crohn’s disease. It is also the first to show how high fat diets can alter gut bacteria to combat inflammation. Rodriguez-Palacios presented his results at the annual Digestive Disease Week® conference in Chicago, Illinois earlier this month. The study was one of six accepted for presentation at the conference out of the laboratory of Fabio Cominelli, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Pathology at Case Western Reserve University, and Division Chief of Gastroenterology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

Results from the study could help doctors identify bacteria to use in probiotics to treat patients suffering from inflammatory bowel 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,” 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 effects for patients. “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.”

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This research was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (awards P30DK097948 which supports the Silvio O. Conte Cleveland Digestive Diseases Research Core Center and R01DK055812). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

For more information about Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, please visit: http://case.edu/medicine.

 

Founded in 1843, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is the largest medical research institution in Ohio and is among the nation's top medical schools for research funding from the National Institutes of Health. The School of Medicine is recognized throughout the international medical community for outstanding achievements in teaching. The School's innovative and pioneering Western Reserve2 curriculum interweaves four themes--research and scholarship, clinical mastery, leadership, and civic professionalism--to prepare students for the practice of evidence-based medicine in the rapidly changing health care environment of the 21st century. Nine Nobel Laureates have been affiliated with the School of Medicine.

Annually, the School of Medicine trains more than 800 MD and MD/PhD students and ranks in the top 25 among U.S. research-oriented medical schools as designated by U.S. News & World Report's "Guide to Graduate Education."

The School of Medicine is affiliated with University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, MetroHealth Medical Center, the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the Cleveland Clinic, with which it established the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University in 2002. case.edu/medicine.


Media Contact(s):

Marc Kaplan
Associate Dean, Marketing and Communications
The School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University
Office: 216-368-4692
Marc.Kaplan@case.edu

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