A new study published in The BMJ suggests that ultra-processed foods have a direct link to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These types of foods include food additives, often containing high levels of added sugar, fat, and salt.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a condition of ongoing inflammation in all or part of the digestive tract. It’s more common in industrialized nations, which is why it is thought that dietary factors may play a role.
However, data linking ultra-processed foods with IBD are limited. Ultra-processed foods include packaged baked goods, snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, and ready meals.
For this study, an international team of researchers pulled information from 116,087 adults aged 35–70 years living in 21 low, middle, and high-income countries taking part in the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. This study is examining the impact of societal influences on chronic diseases in different countries around the world.
The participants were assessed at least every three years between 2003 and 2016. Over an average follow-up of 9.7 years, new diagnoses of IBD were recorded. This also included conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
During this period, 467 participants developed IBD, including 90 with Crohn’s disease and 377 with ulcerative colitis. It was concluded that a higher intake of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of IBD.
Compared with less than one serving of ultra-processed food per day, researchers found an 82% increased risk of IBD among those who consumed five or more servings a day. A 67% increased risk was found for 1–4 servings per day.
After further analysis, results were also consistent for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Subgroups Not Equal
Each subgroup of ultra-processed foods was associated with higher IBD risks, so not all were equally as bad. These foods included processed meats, salty snacks, refined sweetened foods, and soft drinks.
In contrast to these processed foods, intakes of white meat, red meat, dairy, starch, legumes, fruits, and vegetables were not associated with IBD. This leads researchers to believe that it may not be the foods themselves that contain this risk, but rather the way the food is processed or ultra-processed.
“Further studies are needed to identify specific potential contributory factors among processed foods that might be responsible for the observed associations in our study,” they conclude.