Researchers May Have Found The Cause Of Ulcerative Colitis

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Ulcerative colitis is one of the two diseases associated with a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease or IBD. Together with Crohn's disease, IBD affects around 3 million American adults, and the numbers have grown in recent decades.

Currently, there is no cure for these gastrointestinal diseases, but scientists are continuing research and attempting to develop therapies for both—and with some success. Thanks to a new study from Stanford Medical School, researchers may have found an opportunity for a natural treatment for ulcerative colitis.

Creating an effective treatment has been difficult since researchers have yet to identify the single cause of colitis. Instead, there are several potential causes. To begin their research, the team at Stanford isolated one potential cause, and it—like so much else—may be related to the gut microbiome.

What researchers believe may be causing colitis.

Researchers compared the gut microbiomes of two groups, one group with ulcerative colitis and one group with a different, noninflammatory, condition known as FAP. Both groups had undergone the same surgery to restructure their digestive system, but patients with FAP rarely experience the same inflammatory attacks after surgery that patients with ulcerative colitis do. These researchers wanted to know why.

They found that patients with FAP still had one particular family of bacteria that patients with ulcerative colitis were lacking. Those with ulcerative colitis were also lacking some anti-inflammatory substances that those bacteria make. Because only the patients with ulcerative colitis lacked that family of bacteria and their byproducts, researchers concluded that the surgery was not to blame for it missing and that it may be related to the root cause of ulcerative colitis.

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How can this help doctors treat ulcerative colitis?

"This study helps us to better understand the disease," said the study's senior author Aida Habtezion, M.D. "We hope it also leads to our being able to treat it with a naturally produced metabolite that's already present...in a healthy gut."

The anti-inflammatory substances produced by the bacteria ulcerative colitis patients were lacking are called secondary bile acids (SBA). The researchers now believe that supplementation with these substances could be used to treat these diseases. They also believe that, in the future, treatment could involve restoring the gut bacteria that are missing in the first place.

The viability of using SBAs for treatment is currently being tested in a trial at Stanford. If successful, it could become an alternative to the immunosuppressant drugs and surgeries, which are currently used in treatment for ulcerative colitis.

There's also potential the treatment could extend to people suffering from Crohn's, since previous research suggested their microbiomes also lack SBAs.

Supporting gut health can always start with food, and while patients with these serious diseases should seek medical help, making dietary changes may be a good option too. Foods like bone broth are recommended by some doctors, while for some people, cutting out foods may be the best option for healing their gut.

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