WebMD Health News
Louise Chang, MD
July 22, 2009 -- Too many burgers and fries may be bad for your bowel.
A new study shows that people who eat a diet high in linoleic acid, a type
of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid found in red meat and fried foods, may be
more likely to develop a serious bowel condition known as ulcerative colitis.
Researchers found that people whose diets contained the most linoleic acid
were nearly two and a half times more likely to develop ulcerative colitis than
those who ate the least.
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease in which the lining of the
large intestine becomes inflamed and ulcerated, causing symptoms including abdominal
pain, diarrhea, and bleeding. The cause of the condition is
unknown, but researchers say diet may play a role.
In contrast, the same study also showed that people who ate diets rich in
another type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acid (docosahexaenoic acid),
had a 77% lower risk of developing ulcerative colitis. Omega-3 fatty acids are
found naturally in oily fish like salmon and herring and are believed to have a
number of beneficial health effects.
Linoleic acid is an essential omega-6 fatty acid that is converted to
arachidonic acid in the body. Arachidonic acid is found in the membranes of
cells lining the large intestine and can be converted into various
inflammation-causing chemicals. High levels of these inflammatory chemicals
have been found in the bowel tissue of people with ulcerative colitis.
The study, published in the journal Gut, looked at the relationship
between eating a diet high in linoleic acid and risk of ulcerative colitis in
more than 200,000 adults 30-74 years old from the U.K., Germany, Italy, Sweden,
and Denmark. The participants were part of a European cancer study and kept food
Over a four-year period, researchers found that 126 people developed
ulcerative colitis. After adjusting for different variables, researchers found
those whose diets had the most linoleic acid were almost 2.5 times more likely
to develop ulcerative colitis than those who had the least.
Researcher Andrew Hart, MD, of the University of East Anglia in Norwich,
England, and colleagues say if this association holds true as a cause, nearly a
third of ulcerative colitis cases could be attributed to high consumption of
linoleic acid and ulcerative colitis could be prevented by changing people’s
SOURCES:Hart, A. Gut, July 2009, online first edition. News release, BMJ Specialist Journals.
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