Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Soy Protein Might Be Helpful for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have made a discovery that might be helpful for people with inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. They've found that soy protein reduces inflammation and loss of gut barrier function in mice with an induced condition resembling IBD. The discovery may be applicable to humans as well, although this won't be known for certain until clinical trials are performed.

Soybeans: public domain photo by Jing

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

The word "bowel" is another name for the intestine. Inflammatory bowel disease is the general name for a group of illnesses involving intestinal inflammation. The most common types are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn's disease most often affects the last part of the small intestine (the ileum) and the large intestine. It may affect other parts of the digestive tract instead or as well, however. Ulcerative colitis usually affects the colon (the first and longest part of the large intestine) and the rectum (the chamber at the end of the colon where stool is stored until it's ready to be released). Both diseases can be painful and seriously interfere with life.

Inflammatory bowel diseases affect nearly 4 million people worldwide and have an economic impact of more than $19 billion annually in the United States. Jeff Mulhollen, Penn State News

Crohn's Disease

The cause of Crohn's disease is unknown. It's thought to be due to a mistake by the immune system, however. Certain bacteria or other environmental factors in the intestine may trigger the immune system to behave abnormally, leading to inflammation. There may be a genetic factor that makes some people more susceptible to the disease than others.

Some possible symptoms of Crohn's disease include stomach pain, severe diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, and a low-grade fever. In addition, there may be blood in the stool. Anyone with any of these symptoms should consult a doctor. The disease often follows a pattern of flare-up, when symptoms are worse, alternating with remission, when symptoms are milder or absent.

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is  "ulcerative" because sore or ulcers develop on the intestinal lining. "Colitis" means inflammation of the colon. The condition is believed to be an autoimmune disease. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis often resemble those of Crohn's disease, including the occurrence of flare-ups and remissions. There are a few differences between the two conditions, however.

  • Ulcerative colitis is generally restricted to the colon and affects the inner layer of its lining. Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive tract and causes damage that penetrates deeper into the lining.
  • In ulcerative colitis, the entire colon is affected. In Crohn's disease, the damage generally occurs in patches.
Mice are often used in medical experiments.
Public domain photo by auenleben

The Soy Protein Research

The Penn State researchers studied both mice and isolated cells from the human colon. They found that concentrated soy protein produced protective effects in the colon cells. The researchers replaced some of the protein in the diet of the mice with soy protein concentrate. They tried to keep the quantity of soy reasonable instead of using a huge amount. Not only did the intestinal inflammation improve in the mice with induced IBD, but in addition weight loss and spleen swelling were reduced.

Since soy protein is available commercially, both in the form of a protein powder and in meat substitute products, people with IBD may want to try it now to see if it helps them. If this is done, it's probably a good plan to start with a small amount at first to see how the body reacts. If the condition doesn't worsen, the amount of soy that's ingested could be increased. A huge amount of soy may not be good for other aspects of health, however. It might be a good idea for a patient to talk to their doctor before incorporating the protein into the diet. Hopefully the clinical trials will be performed as soon as possible in order to determine the optimal amount of protein, assuming it helps humans as it does mice.