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Studies find link between diet and Crohn's Disease

Studies find link between diet and Crohn's Disease

Nutrigenomics researchers at The University of Auckland have found a potential relationship between Crohn's disease, a disease that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, and diet.

In the developed world, Crohn's is thought to affect one in every 10,000 people. Local studies in New Zealand have suggested a higher incidence, with the highest recorded rate of one reported case per 600 people in the Canterbury area.

The research team at the University's Faculty of Medical & Health Sciences, part of Nutrigenomics New Zealand, are studying the link between foods eaten by people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) focusing on individuals with Crohn's disease, and different variations of the IBD-related genes. Nutrigenomics New Zealand is a multidisciplinary research collaboration between The University of Auckland, AgResearch, HortResearch and Crop & Food Research. Its ongoing study at the University is the largest national study undertaken in New Zealand on Crohn's disease.

Of the 700 people with forms of IBD interviewed in the study so far, more than 50% could identify foods that relieve their symptoms, and almost 90% identified foods that made their condition worse.

Crohn's disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease, the exact cause of which remains unknown. The disease causes the gastrointestinal tract to become inflamed, causing abdominal pain, diarrhoea and discomfort. Although symptoms are often controlled through medication and surgery, flare-ups of the disease can occur at any time. In the most severe cases, people with Crohn's disease can be hospitalised for long periods of time, require extensive surgery or be housebound.

The study involves comparing the genetic differences in people with Crohn's with dietary tolerances and intolerances. Information about lifestyle and symptoms are also collected, to learn more about the disease and potentially to allow tailoring of foods to genetic type. The study involves volunteers across New Zealand submitting answers to questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle and giving a blood sample for genetic analysis. More volunteers are required, including people with no family history of the disease to act as experimental controls.

"Crohn's disease is on the rise, and it is important that we learn as much as possible about how diet affects symptoms and whether this is genetically linked," says Professor Lynn Ferguson of the University's Nutrigenomics group. "For some people, the disease takes over their lives and being able to alleviate some of their symptoms with lifestyle changes would drastically improve their quality of life. This is a study of New Zealand people – results will reflect the New Zealand lifestyle."

"Local support groups provide an important service in keeping people up to date with new research as well as educating people with the disease, their families and medical professionals. We would like to see groups becoming available for people in areas of the country where support groups don't exist, particularly in the Wellington and Hutt areas, and would be glad to hear from anyone who would like to get involved."

Nutrigenomics New Zealand is a collaboration between AgResearch, Crop & Food Research, HortResearch and The University of Auckland and is largely funded by the Foundation of Research, Science and Technology (FRST).

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