Broccoli, Plantains and Crohn's Disease
What do broccoli, plantains, and Crohn’s disease have in common? A new study suggests there could be an important and beneficial relationship between them.
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory condition of the digestive tract that most commonly affects the lower small intestine. An estimated 500,000 people in the United States have the disease, and it can affect both men and women. About 20 percent of people diagnosed with the disease have a blood relative with some form of inflammatory bowel disease.
The disease is characterized by chronic intestinal inflammation, pain, diarrhea, skin problems, inflammation in the eyes, fever, and rectal bleeding. Although the exact cause is not known, experts believe it is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system reacts to good bacteria and food by attacking the body’s healthy tissues in the intestinal tract. Environmental and hereditary factors are also believed to have a role.
Broccoli and Plantains
Previous research shows that individuals who have Crohn’s disease have elevated levels of a type of bacteria (Escherichia coli) that can penetrate the intestinal wall via cells called M cells. In people with Crohn’s disease, this leads to chronic inflammation of the gut.
To help prevent E. coli from interacting with M cells, scientists have tested a medical food that contains soluble fibers from plantains. Jon Rhodes, a professor at the University of Liverpool, notes that Crohn’s disease is “much more prevalent in developed countries, where a diet of low fibre and processed foods is common.” He and his colleagues suggest there is a “link between the food that we eat and the transportation of bacteria in the body,” and that consumption of a medical food containing plantain fibers may have a beneficial impact.
Dr. Barry Campbell, from the University’s Institute of Translational Medicine, adds that their research on the effect of this medical food “shows that different dietary components can have powerful effects on the movement of bacteria through the bowel.” Earlier studies have shown benefits of eating broccoli and plantains, “but until now we have not understood how they can boost the body’s natural defences against infection common in Crohn’s patients.”
To arrive at their conclusions, the scientists cultured M cells and tested whether preparations of plant soluble fibers from leeks, apples, broccoli, and plantains, as well as fat emulsifiers polysorbate 60 and 80 (used in the manufacture of processed foods) could affect the activity of E. coli across M cells. While plantain and broccoli fibers reduced E. coli activity by 45 to 82 percent, leeks and apples had no observable impact.
The authors suggest that people who have Crohn’s disease may prevent relapse if they supplement their diet with broccoli and plantain fibers. While the scientists are working on a medical food for this purpose, it remains unclear how much actual broccoli and plantains an individual should eat for this purpose.
University of Liverpool, news release August 26, 2010