Thanksgiving feasting might hold a surprising benefit for those suffering from ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease. Recent research conducted on mice suggests that consuming certain foods, particularly those high in tryptophan like turkey, pork, nuts, and seeds, could potentially reduce the risk of colitis flares. These findings offer hope for improving long-term management of colitis, pending further validation in humans.
Ulcerative colitis can greatly impact one’s quality of life and, in severe cases, may require surgery or increase the risk of developing colon cancer. Unfortunately, not all treatments are effective for everyone, leading researchers to explore alternative approaches. Dr. Sangwon Kim, an assistant professor of immunology at Thomas Jefferson University and the senior author of the study, explains that cooling down the inflamed tissue of the colon is crucial to managing colitis.
The research team focused on a specific group of immune cells called T-regulatory (T-reg) cells, known for their ability to combat inflammation. By attracting more T-reg cells to the colon, the hope was to reduce the inflammation associated with colitis. The researchers discovered a receptor called GPR15, present on the surface of T-reg cells, which acts like a magnet for the colon.
To enhance the power of this “magnet,” the team sought molecules that could increase GPR15 production in T-reg cells. Surprisingly, they found that tryptophan, an amino acid found in various foods, could increase the levels of GPR15 receptors. Excited by this discovery, the researchers supplemented tryptophan in the diet of mice for two weeks and observed a doubling in the number of inflammation-suppressing T-reg cells in the colon tissue. These mice also experienced a reduction in colitis symptoms, which lasted even after discontinuing the tryptophan-rich diet.
It is important to note that this dietary change might primarily serve as a preventive measure against future colitis flares rather than a treatment during a flare-up. However, the results hold promise for long-term management of the disease. The team also stumbled upon a molecule, prevalent in smoke from cigarettes and barbeque, that can increase GPR15 levels on T-reg cells. This finding may explain why smokers have a lower incidence of ulcerative colitis, although it is essential to remember that smoking is harmful to overall health.
Dr. Kim emphasises that tryptophan is a much safer and healthier option compared to smoking. In the future, the researchers plan to conduct clinical trials to determine if these results can be translated to humans. Tryptophan supplements are considered safe as long as the dosage does not exceed 100 milligrams per day. Based on the mouse data, Dr. Kim believes that this dosage could potentially have a positive effect in humans.
While further research is needed, this exciting study opens up new possibilities for managing colitis and improving the lives of those affected by this condition.