New research suggests that plant fibers in plantains and broccoli can help prevent relapses of Crohn's disease. This disease is a long term disease of the gut that is characterized by inflammation of the lining of the digestive system, with symptoms including diarrhea and abdominal pain. Crohn's disease affects between 400,000 and 600,000 people in North America. Scientists believe that rise in processed food and decrease in fibers in diet could be a reason for rise of incidence of this disease.
For this study the scientists tested a range of soluble plant fiber to judge their effect on Crohn's disease. Soluble plant fiber is the kind which comes out of vegetables when they are boiled in water. The results of the study showed that soluble fiber from plantain and broccoli specifically stopped 45% to 82% of the bacteria E.coli from crossing into cells in the intestine. Fiber from leek and apple had no effect.
The sticky E. coli are capable of penetrating the gut wall via special cells, called M-cells that act as 'gatekeepers' to the lymphatic system. Studies have shown that patients with Crohn's disease this leak leads to chronic inflammation in the gut. This study shed that plantain soluble fibers prevented the uptake and transport of E. coli across M.cells. They compared these results with tests on polysorbate-80 - a fat emulsifier used in processed food to bind ingredients together. The tests revealed that polysorbate had the opposite effect to plantain fibers, and encouraged the movement of bacteria through the cells.
According to researcher Professor Jonathan Rhodes, from the University School of Clinical Sciences in Liverpool, "What's interesting about this paper is that it shows, for the first time, that soluble plant fiber is able to stop bacteria from finding its way through the lining of the intestine."
The study was published in the international journal Gut and funded by Wellcome Trust and the National Institute for Health Research.
At present Prof Rhodes and his colleagues are carrying out a clinical trial involving 76 sufferers of Crohn's to test the effect in people. "It may be that it makes sense for sufferers of Crohn's to take supplements of these fibers to help prevent relapse," he said. He also pointed out that part of the world where plantains grow like India and Central America, have low rates of inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer.
The product that would be tested on these humans is a plantain based product from biotechnology company Provexis. Dr Barry Campbell, from the University's Institute of Translational Medicine also said, "This research shows that different dietary components can have powerful effects on the movement of bacteria through the bowel. We have known for some time the general health benefits of eating plantain and broccoli, which are both high in vitamins and minerals, but until now we have not understood how they can boost the body's natural defences against infection common in Crohn's patients. Our work suggests that it might be important for patients with this condition to eat healthily and limit their intake of processed foods." According to Peter Laing, Head of Research and Development, Provexis, "In partnership with the BRC, we are hopeful that this new medical food, containing soluble plantain fibers, could help halt the progression of the disease and prevent it from returning."