Scientist Claims New Fiber Could Cut Risk of Crohn's Disease

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A Purdue University scientist trying to solve a general digestive problem ended up creating a new type of fiber. He believes its use might improve overall digestive health and cut the risk of developing Crohn's disease, colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and diverticulosis. As a Crohn's patient, I find this discovery intriguing but perhaps wishful thinking.

Researchers maintain that the body digests the custom fiber more slowly than it does other types of fiber, according to Medical News Today. Its developer, Purdue food scientist Bruce Hamaker, says the slower digestion of the patent-pending fiber could reduce digestive intolerance.

Hamaker initially focused on investigating dietary fiber intolerance. He indicates that it's primarily the byproduct of rapid fermentation produced when bacteria pull energy out of fiber. It affects most people to varying degrees.

One product of the fermentation process is butyrate. It has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and feeds cells in the lining of the large intestine. The new fiber manufactures large amounts of butyrate as it travels through the digestive tract.

A common site of colon cancer, diverticulitis, and ulcerative colitis is the descending colon. As the new fiber moves through the gut, it passes through this area. The fiber's design allows scientists to target a therapeutic effect to specific areas.

This fiber has been tested in two clinical trials with human subjects at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center. The trials concluded that people tolerate Hamaker's designer fiber without any side effects and better than they tolerate psyllium, a substance often used in high-fiber foods.

Crohn's, an incurable inflammatory bowel disease that can develop in any part of the digestive tract from mouth to anus, affects approximately 700,000 Americans, according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America. While its exact cause remains unknown, researchers believe it's the end product of an abnormal immune reaction. Many patients have close relatives with the disease or its cousin, ulcerative colitis. Environmental factors might also be a culprit.

The immune reaction causes the body to attack substances normally harmless or even benign, says the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. The result is inflammation.

Since Crohn's disease occurs in various parts of the digestive tract, the fiber's benefit to patients with the disorder apparently is its overall anti-inflammatory effect. The disease waxes and wanes. During flare-ups and after several Crohn's surgeries, there are times when I must avoid fiber. One interesting question about the new product is how it might help patients in similar circumstances as far as preventing additional flare-ups.

The Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization has exclusively licensed the fiber to Nutrabiotix LLC, which is a Purdue Research Park-based firm. If claims that the discovery could cut the risk of Crohn's disease and other digestive illnesses are sound, the product might eventually be available in various consumer markets.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

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