Dietary changes are an ‘increasing priority’ to relieve gastrointestinal symptoms and prevent cancer

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We have long known that our diets affect our health, but many questions remain about the effect of diet on conditions such as cancer and its potential value in treating a variety of health conditions.

Two studies recently presented at Gastroenterology Week 2022 shed more light on these links. Although they examine two different conditions – irritable bowel syndrome and precursors of colorectal cancer – both tell us more about the impact of diet on health and especially gut health.

Andrea Shin

Ultra-processed foods and cancer risk

Mounting evidence suggests that a diet rich in ultra-processed foods can be harmful to health. These foods include salty or sugary snack foods; refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta; Sugar-sweetened drinks and cheese. and processed meat. We know that eating a lot of them can lead to weight gain, heart disease and diabetes, but a recent study suggests a worrying link between eating these foods and the development of colon polyps, which are precursors to CRC.

in their studies, Minjiang SongMBBS, SCD, of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues found a link between ultra-processed foods and polyps that form in the colon and can become cancerous if not removed. Using data from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), NHS II and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, researchers analyzed the records of more than 144,000 patients who had had a colonoscopy at least once, such as a colonoscopy, and were followed for 18 to 20 years until a polyp was diagnosed. colon.

They also assessed the patients’ diets by surveying them every 4 years to understand how regularly they consumed ultra-processed foods. Those who ate the most of these foods were more likely to develop polyps. Processed meats have the strongest association with high-risk polyps. Song and colleagues concluded that high consumption of ultra-processed foods could lead to an increased risk of developing polyps–suggesting that this may be a modifiable dietary target for early CRC prevention.

It is still unclear how ultra-processed foods may lead to colon polyps. One theory is that a poor diet and increased consumption of these foods could change the ways the microbes in our gut get the nutrients they need or the way the gut microbiome is made. This may transform our gut microbiome so that it generates higher levels of harmful metabolites that can promote the development of polyps or even cancer.

Diet as a cure

While our diets can contribute to negative health effects, they can also improve our health, and scientists are exploring ways that diet can actually help treat some digestive conditions.

Another recent study shows how the diet can help relieve symptoms in IBS patients. Sana Nebaka, Ph.D., Ph.D., of the Department of Molecular and Clinical Medicine at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and colleagues conducted a randomized controlled clinical trial to compare the effects of two diets and medical treatment on IBS symptoms. Nearly 300 adults with IBS were divided into three groups: one group was assigned to receive IBS medication, the second ate a low-carbohydrate diet, and the third ate a low-sugar diet that might cause gastrointestinal disturbances. [(fermentable oligo-, di- and monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAP)].

After 4 weeks, IBS symptoms improved in the three groups, but the two food groups experienced greater improvement than those who received medical treatment. More than 70% of those in the food groups saw a significant reduction in symptoms, and about 50% cut their symptoms in half. The authors conclude that these findings suggest that changes in diet may be considered a primary treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.

Our understanding of diet-based approaches to treating IBS patients continues to evolve, and it is a growing priority to use dietary changes to relieve IBS symptoms. But since many medications are available for IBS, dietary approaches may remain somewhat underutilized. However, it is important to note that these options are not mutually exclusive. Personalized and effective treatments for IBS may include diet-based strategies in addition to medication.

Together, these two new studies add to our growing understanding that long-term dietary patterns – and even short-term dietary changes – may have a significant impact on digestive health, function and symptoms. At your next visit, talk to your patient about dietary changes that might be beneficial for them and their gut health.

for more information:

Andrea Shin, MD, MSassistant professor of medicine and Philip J. Snodgrass scientist in gastroenterology and hepatology at Indiana University School of Medicine.

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