Indian researchers have found that frequent consumption of berries and pomegranates may be the answer to improving digestion and bowel health.
Researchers at the Bangalore-based Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (InStem) alongside the University of Louisville discovered that a metabolite produced during the breakdown of berries in the gut relieves the effects of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Communications.
Historically, IBD – a term which covers a number of bowel disorders – was thought of a condition almost exclusively endemic in Western nations. India itself had an almost negligible incidence of the condition until several decades ago. Since this point, disease numbers have surged.
A likely causative factor is overall diet. Decades ago, a largely vegetarian diet was common in India. With a prevalence of herbs and spices that Indian cuisine is renowned for, it was one of the diets most beneficial to gut health. However, recent years have seen a shift in dietary habits towards far more unhealthy options.
Western style diets in which highly processed foods have become common in India’s cities, often found to be cheaper than healthier options. A shift towards a diet where unhealthy foods form the staple, and fresh fruits and vegetables are uncommon has been catastrophic for India’s health. Obesity is becoming ever more common, and with it, conditions such as IBD.
IBD is usually marked by chronic intestinal inflammation. The body has a natural layer of defence within the bowels that consists of a single-cell layer that provides protection against antigens and toxins present in the gut. Any damage caused to this layer can result in these toxins and antigens penetrating into the body and causing complications, usually in the form of inflammation.
The cells of this barrier remain bound together using proteins like claudins and zona occludin, loss of these proteins has the potential to cause IBD due to a less effective gut barrier.
The study found that Urolithin A, a metabolite derived from berries and pomegranates, boosted the number of cell junction proteins. The study found that in addition to previously known anti-inflammatory effects of Urolithin A, it has the potential to aid in repair of the cell lining of the gut.
“Restoring the gut barrier and reducing the inflammation using a small-molecule will provide a better therapeutic output in the treatment of IBDs,” said Dr Vemula of InStem. Isolation of the compound could allow for the development of targeted therapies in the future.