Researchers identify links between Crohn's disease and fatty gut tissue

There is a “direct link” between fatty tissue in the gut and Crohn’s disease, new Irish research suggests.

Crohn's disease is a chronic, life-long inflammatory bowel condition that results in the gut becoming inflamed in patches of varying sizes and severity.

About 40,000 people in Ireland suffer from Crohn's and Colitis — conditions collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease(IBD) — most of whom are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35. 

Symptoms range from regular diarrhoea or constipation to cramping pains in the abdomen, loss of appetite, anaemia and ulcers in the mouth and digestive tract.

The Irish research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, involved body composition analysis of patients with Crohn’s disease.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Limerick along with a team from University Hospital Limerick, suggests for the first time that Crohn’s disease, may, in fact, be a fatty intestine condition.

It has been described as “an exciting starting point” for the further exploration of the condition.

Novel approach

Professor Colum Dunne, foundation chair and director of research at the UL School of Medicine, said that people with Crohn’s disease incorporate fat into their body in a way that is different from people who do not have Crohn’s.

They appear to “preferentially lay down fat on the lower parts of their body rather than the abdomen”, he said.

“In our study, it was evident that, in the abdominal areas where the intestines are located, Crohn’s related ulcers or lesions and inflammation are associated with higher depositions of fat,” Prof Dunne explained.

“More simply, in that part of their body that has relatively less overall fat, disease shows up as linked with fatty tissue surrounding the gut.”

Prof Dunne said the study used novel approaches focusing on intestinal disease.

“We brought together our emerging new knowledge of intestinal anatomy, biochemical signals, and UL’s expertise in body composition analysis,” he said.

“That analysis is more often used in the study of athletes or looking at changes in the body as we age. Here, we found evidence that Crohn’s disease, and where inflammation happens in the intestine, is directly linked to fatty tissue in those locations.” 

Professor Dunne added that the latest research was “a practical example of impact in real-world clinical care”.