abuse the ultra-processed foods It is harmful to health because, among other things, they usually contain too much salt, added sugar and fat, and there is increasing scientific evidence that discourages their regular consumption. Now, new research has found that including a large amount of these products in the diet can increase the risk of developing Crohn’s disease (CD), an inflammatory bowel disease characterized by recurrent episodes of abdominal pain and diarrhea.
The researchers analyzed data from five previous studies (carried out between 2020 and 2022) involving more than one million people, aged 43 to 56, and more than half of whom were women. They considered ultra-processed foods to be those that presented chemical alterations such as artificial colors or flavors; for example, processed meats such as chicken nuggets, sauces, soft drinks, some breakfast cereals and pastries and industrial breads, among others.
During follow-up, 916 individuals developed Crohn’s disease and the risk was found to be higher in participants who ate more ultra-processed foods compared to those with less consumption, and that the risk was also lower for participants with higher consumption of unprocessed foods. or minimally processed compared to those who had a lower consumption of ultra-processed foods.
“Ultra-processed foods can have negative implications for intestinal health in the long term and contain additives and substances to improve their flavor or shelf life that are not in our usual diet”
However, no associations were found between the intake of ultra-processed foods and the risk of suffering from ulcerative colitis, a disease in which certain trigger factors produce sudden and acute outbreaks of intestinal irritation. The findings have been published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
“Based on the emerging literature, we know that ultra-processed foods can have negative implications for long-term gut health and contain additives and substances to improve their taste or shelf life, including chemicals that are not in our regular diet. Its intake increases the risk of Crohn’s disease,” said Neeraj Narula, a professor at McMaster University (Canada), who led the study.
Diet increases incidence of inflammatory bowel disease
Narula has explained that the rates of inflammatory bowel disease have increased in North America and Europe since the second half of the 20th century, and that its incidence is also increasing now in emerging industrializing countries in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, what he attributes to “Westernization” of diets which includes a greater consumption of ultra-processed foods.
Crohn’s disease is also related to non-Mediterranean diets, the high consumption of red meat, and a lower presence of fiber, zinc and potassium in the daily diet, according to this expert. “The causes of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are relatively unknown, and we have theorized that a combination of genetic, environmental, and microbial factors are involved. The ultra-processed alter the microbiome towards disbiosis, which causes the immune system to react against certain microorganisms in the gut and triggers an inflammatory pathway that leads to Crohn’s disease.” “In addition to Crohn’s disease, these foods carry other health risks, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease,” adds Narula.
Research has also found that ultra-processed foods, however, do not seem to have anything to do with the development of ulcerative colitis. According to Narula, this could be due to the fact that Crohn’s disease has a long preclinical phase, since, he points out, the PREDICTS study (published in 2020 in Gastroenterology) revealed that patients with Crohn’s disease can have biomarkers present in their blood for up to five years before being diagnosed.