Red Meat, Alcohol Promote Colitis

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Ulcerative colitis is a chronic and often painful inflammation of the colon. The cause of this disease is unknown, but dietary factors have long been suspected as playing some role in the disease because it appears to be more common in modern societies, which consume a lot of animal products and less fruits and vegetables.

A study followed 183 people with colitis that was in remission for one year.1 During that year, a little more than half the people suffered a relapse that was validated using a standard disease index activity index. The researchers looked at the relationship between dietary factors and whose ulcerative colitis relapsed during the year. The 25% of patients who consumed the most protein from poultry, fish, eggs and meat were about three times more likely to suffer a relapse of the disease than the 25% who consumed a diet lowest in these foods. However, proteins from milk products were not associated with a greater risk of relapse. By contrast, the 25% who consumed the most red meat and processed meats such as sausages, bologna and hot dogs were more than 5 times as likely to suffer a relapse of colitis during the year than the 25% who consumed the least red and processed meats. Those who ate more fresh fruits and vegetables had a reduced risk of relapse.

The authors of this study suspected the high sulfur content of foods could be to blame. Animal proteins are high in sulfur. Sulfites are used to preserve beer and wine. The researchers noted men who consumed more than 2 drinks a day were about 3 times more likely to suffer a relapse of colitis than those who did not drink. Sulfur in foods can be used by gut bacteria to generate hydrogen sulfide, a noxious and toxic gas that may very well damage the lining of the large bowel and lead to inflammation. In some people the inflammation becomes so severe they end with pain, diarrhea and blood in their stools or ulcerative colitis.
Bottom Line: Patients with a history of ulcerative colitis should be discouraged from eating a diet high in meat, eggs, and sulfite-preserved foods.

By J. Kenney, PhD, RD.
1 Gut 2004;53:1479-84

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