Massey University in New Zealand is enrolling patients for a nationwide human nutrition research project, which aims to study what causes the development of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). Conducted by Hannah Morton, a doctoral candidate in the College of Health, the study will examine the influence of environmental factors, including diet, and a specific bacteria found in New Zealand.
Morton is looking to include more patients diagnosed with IBD, which covers a series of conditions characterized by the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, in order to understand the incidence of the disease in the country, as well as the influence of the bacteria.
“New Zealand has one of the highest prevalences of Inflammatory Bowel Disease worldwide, making it an ideal location to research the condition,” explained Morton, and according to the numbers of the Ministry of Health, there are about 15,000 people in the country suffering from one of the diseases. In addition, the two major types of the disease are chronic and there are currently no cure for them.
More than 300 participants have already registered to enter the study, as she is analyzing data on both healthy and IBD patients. During an initial phase of her research, Morton dedicated her studies to the possible association between the Vitamin D levels among participants. Being particularly low in New Zealand, vitamin D is associated with immune function, and the researcher believes that it might be a factor of disease incidence. “It’s a very interesting topic because so little is known about it,” Morton explained.
Other researchers have been dedicated to studying the causes for the development of IBD, and several projects have been focused on the function of agents, or combinations of agents, such as bacteria, viruses, and antigens that they think may be responsible for triggering the body’s immune system into producing a severe inflammatory reaction in the gastrointestinal tract. However, they have yet to find an answer.
Depending on the severity of the disease, symptoms include abdominal cramps and pain, diarrhea that may be bloody, severe urgency to have a bowel movement, fever, weight loss, loss of appetite, and iron deficiency anemia due to blood loss and in more than a half of the cases must be corrected through surgery. Morton believes that especially concerning are the increasing rates of the debilitating conditions among younger patients, as well as in Western countries.
Despite the fact that there is no cure, the symptoms can be improved by treatments and lifestyle alterations, including diet. However, not all patients react the same way to food, for example cutting out highly processed foods can help some, eliminating food high in fiber such as fruits and vegetables may help others.
It is for these reasons that Morton believes her study may help IBD patients with the management of the disease, as well as expanding the knowledge about IBD. More information and registration for the study is available here. The study will be supervised by associate professors Jane Coad and Kevin Pedley, and supported by Crohn’s and Colitis New Zealand.