"In the lab, the E. coli becomes stickier, and it sticks to intestinal cells," said McDonald, who conducted the research with graduate student Kourtney Nickerson. "But we haven't tested this in animals to see if there is a particular amount you need to eat to have this effect. It may be that in people who have other risk factors for inflammatory bowel disease, this may tip them over the edge."
The study, which was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was to be presented Monday at the Digestive Disease Week meeting in San Diego.
Crohn's disease is an inflammation of the digestive tract that can lead to swelling, pain and ulcers. Although the disease can affect any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus, the most common spot is the small intestine.
It's unknown what causes the disease, although it's believed that microbes -- along with genetics and other environmental factors -- play a role, said Dr. Jerrold Turner, an associate chair in the department of pathology at the University of Chicago.
A healthy gut contains a multitude of bacteria that aid in the digestion of food and extraction of nutrients from foods. A healthy intestine has a layer of mucus that keeps the bacteria away from the lining of the intestine itself. Prior studies have found that, in people with Crohn's, the thickness of that mucus layer decreases, meaning there are more bacteria directly on the cells lining the intestine, possibly leading to inflammation, Turner explained.
The sticky biofilm may also mean there are more bacteria on the lining of the intestines, McDonald said.
No specific diet has been shown to prevent or treat Crohn's disease, according to the U.S. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. However, the incidence of Crohn's has been rising in the United States in recent decades, leading researchers to suspect that something about
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