Crohn’s disease linked to fatty tissue surrounding the gut

People with Crohn’s disease will tell you that the disease hijacks their life in a sort of hostile takeover – and that such a life can be miserable. There’s little time or strength left to create and enjoy the life they choose for themselves. There’s a new study, however, with a new finding, and new hope. Scientists at the University of Limerick (UL), Ireland have discovered a direct link between fatty tissue and Crohn’s disease. 

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. It can attack the gastrointestinal tract anywhere from the mouth to the anus. The condition can be debilitating, including chronic, often severe, abdominal pain, copious diarrhea, malnutrition, and other symptoms. It’s often associated with depression and anxiety destroying quality of life.

The cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown. Treatment consists of managing the condition. There is no known cure. There are about 200,000 cases per year in the United States.

The new study involved body composition analysis of patients with Crohn’s disease, using equipment hosted on the UL campus, in collaboration with gastroenterology and surgical specialists at University Hospital Limerick (UHL).

“People with Crohn’s disease incorporate fat into their body in a way that is different from 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,” explains Professor Colum Dunne, Foundation Chair and Director of Research at the UL School of Medicine, in a statement.

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

“We brought together our emerging new knowledge of intestinal anatomy, biochemical signals, and UL’s expertise in body composition analysis,” he adds. They found evidence that Crohn’s disease, and inflammation in the intestine, are directly linked to fatty tissue in those locations.

This research is being described as an exciting starting point for the further exploration of Crohn’s disease.

“There is a lot happening in this area at the UL. Our research benefits from the ability to look at clinical problems as part of interdisciplinary teams. This type of innovation relies on team members who contribute diverse expertise, from lab-based analysis to front-line clinical specialists,” Dunn says.


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About the Author

Dr. Faith Coleman

Faith A. Coleman MD
Dr. Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and holds a BA in journalism from UNM. She completed her family practice residency at Wm. Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, MI, consistently ranked among the United States Top 100 Hospitals by US News and World Report. Dr. Coleman writes on health, medicine, family, and parenting for online information services and educational materials for health care providers.

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