A diet high in protein increases women’s risk of the cluster of conditions known collectively as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), according to a study conducted by researchers from the Center Hospitalier Universitaire de Bicetre in Paris an published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.
IBD is characterized by severe inflammation of the digestive tract, and includes conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
“Our results may help better understand the role of diet in IBD risk,” the researchers wrote. “If confirmed, they can lead to protective strategies, especially in families at risk of IBD, and possibly to advice for preventing relapse.”
The researchers followed more than 67,000 women between the ages of 40 and 65 for an average of 10 years, during which time 77 participants developed IBD. The researchers then analyzed all participants’ dietary patterns for a potential link with the disease.
They found that women who consumed the highest amount of protein had were more three times as likely to developing IBD as other women. When the researchers further analyzed this risk by protein type, they found that animal flesh, including fish, was responsible for the greatest risk increase. Although the study was not designed to explain this association, the researchers hypothesized that meat consumption may produce toxic “end products” that can damage the digestive tract, such as ammonia or hydrogen sulfide. Another possibility is that a diet high in protein may alter the natural balance of beneficial bacteria in the colon.
Prior studies have linked an increased risk of IBD to high consumption of certain fats and sugars, but the current study is the first to make a link to meat consumption. Another recent study found that a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids was associated with a higher risk of the disease, while a diet high in omega-3s was associated with a lower risk.