Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and causes inflammation of the digestive tract. The exact cause of Crohn’s disease remains unknown. Several factors, such as heredity and a malfunctioning immune system, likely play a role in its development. Now, new research led by a team at the University of Limerick (UL) in Ireland has revealed a direct link between fatty tissue and Crohn’s disease.

The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports in a paper titled, “Adults with Crohn’s disease exhibit elevated gynoid fat and reduced android fat irrespective of disease relapse or remission.” The researchers, who collaborated with a team at University Hospital Limerick (UHL), are suggesting Crohn’s disease may be a fatty intestine condition.

“Crohn’s disease (CD) is a debilitating inflammatory bowel condition of unknown etiology that is growing in prevalence globally. Large-scale studies have determined associations between female obesity or low body mass index (BMI) with risk of CD at all ages or 8– < 40 years, respectively. For males, low BMI entering adult life is associated with increased incidence of CD or ulcerative colitis up to 40 years later. Body composition analysis has shown that combinations of lean tissue loss and high visceral fat predict poor CD outcomes,” the researchers wrote.

The team assessed dietary intake, physical activity, and whole or regional body composition of patients with CD relapse or remission. “This anthropometric approach found people with CD, irrespective of relapse or remission, differed from a large representative healthy population sample in exhibiting elevated gynoid fat and reduced android fat.”

“People with Crohn’s disease incorporate fat into their body in a way that is different to people who do not have Crohn’s, and appear to preferentially lay down fat on the lower parts of their body rather than the abdomen,” explained Colum Dunne, foundation chair and director of research at the UL School of Medicine.

“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. 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,” explained Dunne, who led the study along with Phil Jakeman, professor in physical education and sport sciences at UL, J. Calvin Coffey, professor in the UL School of Medicine, and Maeve Skelly, PhD, at UHL.

“In UL, our studies have focused on intestinal disease using novel approaches that result from the insight and diverse perspectives of UL and UHL researchers,” Dunne explained.

“We brought together our emerging new knowledge of intestinal anatomy, biochemical signals, and UL’s expertise in body composition analysis. That analysis is more often used in 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.

“We also found that patients with Crohn’s disease appear to incorporate fat into their bodies in a way that is not the same as people who do not have this illness,” he added.

Further studies are needed, but this analysis and findings create a new path in understanding and investigating Crohn’s disease.

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