Sept. 13, 2004 -- A British study shows that diets high in meat, sulphur-rich foods, and alcohol are associated with an increased relapse risk for ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis is a disease that causes inflammation and sores, called ulcers, in the lining of the large intestine. The debilitating disease can cause frequent bouts of bloody diarrhea and pain and can lead to colon cancer. Although the cause is unknown, many studies suggest that dietary factors, especially a diet high in dairy products and low in fiber, may cause a flare-up of the disease.
Strong evidence has linked sulphur-containing foods to relapses of the condition.
Now a study of 183 British people, all of whom have ulcerative colitis and were in remission, takes a closer look at what foods might trigger symptoms.
The participants were followed for a one-year study; their average age was 51.
Researcher Sarah Jowett, of England's University of Newcastle, and colleagues surveyed participants about the foods and portions they ate using a food frequency questionnaire.
During the study, 52% had a colitis relapse.
Meat (especially red and processed meat), protein, and alcohol were associated with an increased relapse risk.
According to a news release, the major meat eaters ate 100 grams or more of meat per day, while the least carnivorous participants ate 50 grams of meat per day.
The type of meat was important. The people who ate the most red and processed meats were more than five times as likely to relapse as those who ate the least.
Alcohol consumption also mattered. Participants who drank the most alcohol were more than 2.5 times as likely to relapse compared with those who drank the least.
Those who drank the most alcohol, about two small glasses of wine per day, were almost three times more likely to relapse compared with those who drank one small glass of wine per day. A small glass of wine contains about 4 ounces.
The study found no basis for two common beliefs about diet and colitis relapse risk.
First, milk and dairy products were not associated with increased relapse risk.
In addition, the researchers saw no protective benefit from increased intake of dietary fiber.
Sulphur might be at the heart of the matter.
"Consumption of large amounts of sulphur and sulphate were also associated with an increased risk of relapse," write the researchers in the October issue of the journal Gut.
Some high-protein foods, including red meat and processed meat, are rich in sulphur. Many alcoholic drinks contain sulphates as additives.
A sulphur-rich diet produces hydrogen sulphide, which damages the lining of the intestine, say the researchers.
Overall, prior colitis activity is a more important predictor of colitis remission than diet. The past can't be changed, but if experts can identify lower-risk foods, patients could eat to reduce their relapse risk.
But first, more work is needed on the topic, say the researchers.