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Crohn's Disease Health Center

Does Cold Food Cause Crohn's?

Researchers Implicate Modern Refrigeration in Rise of Bowel Disease
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WebMD Health News

Dec. 11, 2003 -- Modern refrigeration is justifiably heralded as one of the most significant health advances of the 20th century, but French researchers say it may also be the cause of one malady -- the mysterious bowel disorder known as Crohn's disease.

It is just a theory, but they say the evidence points to food refrigeration as the catalyst for a dramatic increase in Crohn's cases. It is known that genetic predisposition plays a role in Crohn's disease, and environmental factors such as smoking and diet have also been implicated. But while theories abound, no single cause has been identified.

"Cold Chain Hypothesis"

At least half a million Americans suffer from Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, and potentially, bleeding and anemia.

In a paper published Dec. 13 in the journal The Lancet, widely respected Crohn's researcher Jean-Pierre Hugot, MD, and colleagues from Paris' Hospital Robert Debre point out that the arrival of mechanical refrigeration in kitchens throughout the industrialized world paralleled the rise in diagnosed cases of Crohn's disease.

They implicate specific bacteria that thrive at low temperatures as the potential cause of Crohn's disease in genetically susceptible people, and they dub this theory the "cold chain hypothesis."

"The cold chain hypothesis suggests that psychotropic bacteria such as Yersinia and Listeria -- commonly found in beef, pork, chicken, sausages, hamburgers, cheese, and lettuce -- contribute to the disease," Hugot noted in a news release.

Toothpaste and Corn Flakes

Crohn's expert David Sachar, MD, says it is widely believed that environmental changes during the 20th century have played a role in the rising prevalence of the disorder. He tells WebMD that the observation has led to some provocative, but hard to prove, hypotheses, such as those linking Crohn's disease to such components of modern life as toothpaste and corn flakes.

Sachar says Hugot and colleagues make a good case for their theory that food refrigeration is the environmental catalyst researchers have been looking for, and adds that there is no group of researchers with better credentials to make such a claim.

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