May 19, 2010
By S. L. Baker
Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that brings untold pain and misery to about 120,000 people of all ages in the UK and over a million in the US. It produces inflammation and sores in the lining of the rectum and colon that bleed, produce pus and cause frequent diarrhea. This is a serious disease that often causes hospitalization. In fact, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), 25 to 40 percent of people suffering from ulcerative colitis eventually have their colons removed because of massive bleeding, severe illness, rupture of the colon, or risk of cancer.
Powerful side effect-laden drugs like steroids are used to dampen down symptoms but there’s no cure. However, scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have discovered there could be a way to stop ulcerative colitis from developing in the first place. The preventative treatment is simple, healthy, inexpensive and easy to find — olive oil.
UEA researchers announced this news recently at the Digestive Disease Week conference held in New Orleans. Their findings revealed that people with a diet rich in oleic acid are far less likely to develop ulcerative colitis. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid found in abundance in olive oil. It is also a component of peanut oil, grapeseed oil and butter.
The research team, led by Dr. Andrew Hart of UEA’s School of Medicine, studied over 25,000 people between the ages of 40 and 65 who lived in Norfolk, in the UK. The research participants were part of the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Diet and Cancer) study between 1993 and 1997. None of these EPIC participants were diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the beginning of the study. They all kept detailed food diaries which were later studied by nutritionists who analyzed exactly what nutrients and fatty acids the study participants were consuming.
By 2004, 22 of the research subjects had developed ulcerative colitis. When the researchers compared the diets of these people to those who did not develop the disease, they found the study participants with the highest intake of oleic acid had a 90 per cent lower risk of developing ulcerative colitis.
“Oleic acid seems to help prevent the development of ulcerative colitis by blocking chemicals in the bowel that aggravate the inflammation found in this illness,” Dr. Hart said in a statement to the media.”We estimate that around half of the cases of ulcerative colitis could be prevented if larger amounts of oleic acid were consumed. Two-to-three tablespoons of olive oil per day would have a protective effect.”
Additional studies are underway in several countries to further document the potential of oleic acid to prevent colitis, the UEA researchers stated. In addition, they noted that oleic acid should also be assessed in the future as a possible treatment for those already suffering from the disease.