New research suggests that food poisoning, normally an uncomfortable but acute experience, may increase the risk of Crohn’s disease later in life. A Canadian study published in the journal PLOS Pathogens found that exposure to foodborne pathogens can speed up the growth of a bacteria linked to Crohn’s, a painful inflammatory bowel disease that can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition, according to Mayo Clinic.
The study was conducted by researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The team took mice colonized with a bacteria linked to Crohn’s, known as adherent-invasive Escherichia coli (AIEC), and exposed them to two bacteria that lead to gastrointestinal disease: Salmonella Typhimurium or Citrobacter rodentium. According to Dr. Brian Coombes, senior study author and McMaster University professor, the findings suggest that illness from food pathogens may “create an environment” in the intestines that allow Crohn’s-linked bacteria to grow. This may increase the person’s risk of developing Crohn’s disease even years after the food poisoning event has passed.
“You set up this situation where the pathogen comes in via contaminated food or water, inflammation gets generated, and if that particular host has these Crohn’s-associated E.coli already in them, then you’ve created an environment within the gut that allows them to thrive and grow to very, very high numbers,” said Dr. Coombes, according to CTV News.
Coombes notes that the actual cause of Crohn’s is still unknown in the medical world, but he and his colleagues have been studying the effect of certain microbes. “The pathway to get to Crohn’s is really an enigma,” he said, according to CTV News. “People don’t really understand in a fulsome way, what generates Crohn’s disease. There are lots of risk factors that I would say are very well-known in the literature.”
Coombes and his team said the study was prompted by past studies investigating the relationship between food poisoning and Crohn’s. He commented on previous findings and noted that the “really striking finding is that if you’ve been exposed to food poisoning even once, your risk of developing Crohn’s disease within the next 15-year period is significantly higher than if you were not exposed to food-poisoning.” Since the time in between the food poisoning and onset of Crohn’s is so large, it may provide a chance to intervene, Coombes said.
Microbes are a known “key driver” of Crohn’s disease, said Dr. Coombes. “The next question that really is the holy grail to be solved is, what are the bacteria?” he said, according to CTV News. “Which ones are there? There’s trillions and trillions of bacteria in our gut – which ones are the real bad guys that are causing this kind of Crohn’s associated inflammation.”
“We think these (adherent-invasive Escherichia coli) are one of the bad guys,” Coombes said.