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Ultra-processed food intake linked to inflammatory bowel disease

Written by | 26 Aug 2021 | Gastroenterology

Consumption of ultra-processed foods appears to be linked to an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), researchers reported on July 15, 2021 in the BMJ/British Medical Journal.

“Higher intake of ultra-processed food was positively associated with risk of IBD. Further studies are needed to identify the contributory factors within ultra-processed foods,” the authors said.

Ultra-processed foods include packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, ready meals containing food additives, and reconstituted meat and fish products.

These products also often contain high levels of added sugar, fat and salt, but lack vitamins and fiber.

The researchers analyzed detailed dietary information from 116,087 adults aged 35-70 years living in 21 low, middle and high income countries who enrolled in the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study.

Subjects enrolled in PURE between 2003 and 2016, and they were evaluated least every three years.

The average follow-up was 9.7 years. During follow-up the researchers recorded new diagnoses of IBD, including Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

During follow-up, 467 subjects developed IBD, 90 with Crohn’s disease and 377 with ulcerative colitis.

After adjusting for other factors, the researchers reported that higher intake of ultra-processed food was associated with a higher risk of IBD.

Compared to those who consumed less than one serving of ultra-processed food per day, there was an 82% increased risk of IBD among those who consumed five or more servings per day, and a 67% increased risk for 1-4 servings per day.

Various subgroups of ultra-processed food, including soft drinks, refined sweetened foods, salty snacks, and processed meat, each were associated with higher risks of development of  IBD.

Notably, white meat, red meat, dairy, starch, and fruit, vegetables and legumes were not associated with development of IBD.

While this is an observational study so can’t establish causality, the investigators said the findings “support the hypothesis that intake of ultra-processed foods could be an environmental factor that increases the risk of IBD.”

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