The Western world is no stranger to diseases like inflammatory bowel disease. While IBD triggers are still unknown, researchers recently identified a new step in how the disease progresses. Using animal models of IBD, researchers demonstrate that a specific protein located in the intestinal mucosa may be to blame for IBD. It’s estimated that 3.5 million people in Europe and the states suffer from IBD (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease). The condition is characterized by chronic inflammation of the bowel due to immune dysfunction. Specifically, the immune system reacts to normal bacterial species that naturally reside in the human gut. When the immune system overreacts, the intestinal cells that line the mucosa aren’t able to properly function, and most researchers believe that this can be triggered by psychological factors like stress.
Some of the most recent research on IBD mechanisms refers to a phenomenon called unfolded protein response (UPR). UPR is described as a chain of events involving cellular signaling with the function of protecting cells from stress. The UPR can be thought of as a biological repair system that turns on when protein folding goes wrong. When proteins are produced, they fold in a specific way, but this process can sometimes go wrong. When the proteins don’t fold properly, it creates cellular stress. In fact, this is one of the most common causes on cellular stress within the body. As cellular stress progresses, the signaling cascade is interrupted, causing inflammation and cell death. When this occurs in the gut, the intestinal mucosa becomes damaged, and researchers believe this process is a precursor for IBD development.
A protein abbreviated as CHOP plays a significant role not only in activating UPR, but also in the inflammatory process. The animal model was used to more closely analyze the role that CHOP plays in the development of chronic bowel disease (including IBD). When CHOP proteins are abundant, the mice are more susceptible to inflammation in the gut. Additionally, increased levels of CHOP are associated with slower inflammatory reduction times and also slow the body’s natural regenerative process. While the research doesn’t indicate that increased levels of CHOP does not cause cellular death, it is linked to inhibition of cellular division, which explains why increased CHOP is associated with slower regeneration of intestinal cells. The activation of CHOP is often the first step in chronic inflammation of the bowel, and researchers believe that a properly functioning UPR signaling cascade is critical for intestinal health. In addition, impairment of the body’s protective functions plays a significant role in the development of IBD.
Consumer and Patient Perspectives
While the researchers work to better understand IBD triggers and biochemical processes that contribute to the disease, patients and consumers continue to track lifestyle and nutrition factors that reduce or aggravate their condition. Diet is a huge part of IBD, not only because IBD is an intestinal disease, but also because the gut is so closely linked with the immune system. As an immune disorder, IBD affects the way that the gut and the immune system communicate. For example, those with IBD are often limited in terms of dietary choices. Foods that commonly trigger IBD symptoms include (but are not limited to): carbonated drinks, caffeine, dairy, legumes, foods high in fiber (like fruits and vegetables), meats, nuts, spicy foods, and foods high in sugar. In other words, just about every food is capable of triggering IBD flare-ups. IBD patients often describe their relationship with food as a lifelong dynamic learning process. Unfortunately, part of this learning process involves learning the hard way. In other words, there is no way to learn what kind of foods trigger IBD until the food is consumed and symptoms subsequently appear.
To compound matters, IBD patients often experience numerous nutritional problems as a direct result of their condition. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are more likely to occur in these patients due to diet restrictions and fear of triggering IBD symptoms. In addition to avoiding important food groups altogether, IBD patients also experience incomplete digestion due to the condition. The symptoms initially mimic those of a simple food intolerance. Cramping, belching, flatulence and bloating may occur – but in IBD, these symptoms are accompanied by a damaging inflammatory response from the immune system. When food is not properly digested the body is unable to take vital nutrients into the bloodstream and use them for essential biochemical processes. For this reason, many IBD patients are deficient in important nutrients.
IBD is a complex disorder involving more than one body system. Many patients choose to add alternative therapies to their standard forms of treatment. Here are some of the most promising alternative therapies available for patients suffering from IBD:
Probiotics: Probiotics are especially important in those with IBD. The inflammation caused by IBD can throw off the body’s ratio of beneficial to pathogenic bacteria within the large intestine. When this occurs, it not only affects stool regularity, but also promotes immune dysfunction. The gut communicates with the immune system through intestinal bacteria, so it’s critical to replace beneficial bacteria that are lost as a result of IBD symptoms. In addition, research suggests that adding probiotics to an IBD regimen may even assist prescription IBD medications in effectiveness.
Digestive enzymes: Digestive enzymes play a central role in digestion. When supplementing with digestive enzymes, IBD patients are more likely to break down the food they consume, which not only prevents the onset of additional inflammation, but also helps to prevent nutrient deficiencies. Digestive enzymes help to ensure that nutrients are ready to be absorbed through the small intestine and into the bloodstream. These supplements also have preventative effects by reducing the chances of undigested food particles from reaching the large intestine. In turn, IBD symptoms like flatulence and diarrhea are less likely to occur.
Systemic enzymes: Systemic enzymes not only help reduce existing inflammation, but they also play an important role in immune regulation. By interrupting various points in the inflammatory cascade, systemic enzymes are effective in reducing the amount of circulating inflammatory molecules within the gut. It’s also important to note that those with IBD are often limited in terms of anti-inflammatory treatments. For example, NSAID’s are often off-limits because they are known to compromise the intestinal mucosa. Systemic enzymes offer effective anti-inflammatory benefits without the risks of NSAID’s, making them a perfect option for IBD patients.