New US research has found that eating junk food could be linked to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract which includes two types of conditions — ulcerative colitis and the perhaps better known Crohn’s disease.
Carried out by researchers in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University, the new study looked at data from 103,789 participants aged 18 to 85 who took part in the annual National Health Interview Survey in 2015.
The survey had assessed the participants’ intake of 26 foods during the last month, from healthy foods such as brown rice and other whole grains, salad, vegetables and fruit to those considered to be unhealthy such as candy, soda, doughnuts and processed meat.
The findings showed that junk foods were commonly consumed by participants with inflammatory bowel disease.
In particular, French fries, cheese and cookies were consumed by a large number of people with inflammatory bowel disease, more than the participants without the disease.
Those with IBD were also more likely to drink lower amounts of 100% fruit juice. Consuming fries, sports and energy drinks and soda were also all significantly associated with the likelihood of having received a diagnosis of IBD.
In contrast, upping the intake of certain foods, such as vegetables, was associated with a lower likelihood of having an IBD diagnosis.
Inflammatory bowel disease affects three million US adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common symptoms include persistent diarrhoea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding or bloody stools, weight loss and fatigue.
The researchers say the findings suggest that eating foods which are typically considered to be unhealthy seems to be a contributing trait of IBD prevalence in the US, a link which they say is not surprising.
However, they add that there are other factors to consider which could also affect the rates of IBD, such as environmental factors, for example living in an area classed as a food desert and methods of cooking and food processing, such as frying.
“While foods typically labelled as junk food were positively associated with inflammatory bowel disease, we found the eating patterns of people with and without this disease to be very similar,” said Dr Moon Han, the study’s first author.
“However, it’s unclear whether the survey results reflect a potential change in the food intake of people with inflammatory bowel disease long before the survey was conducted.”