Crohn’s disease affects an estimated 700,000 Americans. It causes extreme pain and discomfort and severely lowers the quality of life for almost everybody who has to suffer through its often unpredictable flare-ups.
It’s a digestive disorder that causes inflammation in the gut, intestines, and rectum. Symptoms include extreme abdominal pain, diarrhea, bleeding, weight loss, and many of the more common symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome. It’s a chronic condition without a cure, but current treatment options include steroids, surgery, and dietary adjustments.
Some patients are able to identify foods that cause flare-ups and alter their diets to include nutrition that limits inflammation.
New research, however, could revolutionize Crohn’s treatment. Researchers identified a potentially key difference in the diversity of gut microbes in Crohn’s patients compared to healthy people. These bacteria trigger or limit immune system response, and an overactive immune system is the reason why Crohn’s is so painful.
A team of doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at previous research from over 1,500 Crohn’s patients and noticed a less diverse population of gut microbes. The limited scope of bacteria in patients featured microbes predominantly associated with inflammation and activating the immune system, while a diverse mix of bacteria was found in healthy people. These microbes included strains identified as anti-inflammatories.
They also compared the species of bacteria from 447 Crohn’s patients to 221 healthy people and noticed the makeup in Crohn’s patients promoted inflammatory reactions in the gut.
Hopefully these findings spur more treatment methods for this currently incurable condition. By identifying ways to diversify and regulate gut bacteria in Crohn’s patients, perhaps through probiotics, diet, or the discovery of a “super probiotic,” inflammation can be reduced, or even eliminated, in people who suffer from this debilitating condition.
The clear difference in gut bacteria found in healthy people versus Crohn’s patients definitely offers some valuable insight into potential treatment conditions. Microbe transplants, injections, or other forms of treatment can be more seriously explored. I believe this discovery has the potential to improve the lives of millions.
More research still needs to be done to identify which bacteria would be most beneficial to Crohn’s patients. Once that’s accomplished, new treatment procedures would likely follow. But this discovery is promising and offers valuable insight into the cause of a disease that limits the lives of so many.
Stein, R., “Mix of Gut Microbes May Play Role in Crohn’s Disease,” NPR web site, March 12, 2014; http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/03/12/289041150/mix-of-gut-microbes-may-play-role-in-crohns-disease, last accessed March 17, 2014.