Unbeknownst to most people, our intestines are full of bacteria. Most of our Western culture has demonized bacteria, blaming them for causing infections and inconvenience. However, we as a species would not be able to survive without them, as they help to break down the food we eat into molecules your body recognizes.
A delicate balance of these gut bacteria is needed to maintain a well-balanced digestive system, with the foods we eat and the medications we take affecting this equilibrium. New research has found that a beneficial fatty diet can change the number of bacteria in the gut, potentially helping to fight harmful intestinal inflammatory disorders such as Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disorder that can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition. With this condition, inflammation often spreads deep into the layers of affected bowel tissue and may sometimes lead to life-threatening complications.
Currently, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease. Treatments focus on reducing the signs and symptoms of the condition.
Good fats reduce inflammation
A study involving mice fed a diet of plant-derived healthy fats, including coconut oil or cocoa butter, as opposed to bad fats, reported drastically reduced bacterial diversity in the animals. It was found that beneficial fatty diets resulted in up to thirty percent fewer kinds of gut bacteria than in those mice fed a normal diet.
Less severe inflammation was found in the small intestine of mice with a Crohn’s like disease when they were fed even low concentrations of coconut oil or cocoa butter.
“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. Patients would only need to replace a ‘bad’ fat with a ‘good’ fat, and eat normal amounts,” said Alexander Rodriguez-Palacios, DVM, DVSc, Ph.D., the first author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University.
This study is among the first to identify specific changes in gut bacteria in relation to Crohn’s disease and fatty diets. To see a measurable difference in the level of inflammation in the gut is a major discovery for patients suffering from the condition.
Benefits over using drugs
The researchers of the study still need to investigate this discovery further and are staying cautiously optimistic. They stress that not all good fats may be beneficial for all patients, but they can still provide some benefits over side-effect-inducing medications.
“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. Ultimately, we aim to identify the ‘good’ fat-loving microbes for testing as probiotics,” said Rodriguez-Palacios.