A diet high in saturated fats is linked to increased inflammation in the gut, which consequently leads to colorectal cancer, scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) suggested.

The study revealed evidence that also found probiotic content in food items such as yoghurt and kimchi could help in improving gut health. The study is a joint project between the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Sweden and Ms Terri Phua, a doctoral student at NTU.

Led by Associate Professor Andrew Tan Nguan Soon, the team examined the causes of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and discovered that a lower level of Angiopoietin-like 4 (ANGPLT4) – a protein found in the gut – led to increased inflammation.

Worrying increase in numbers of IBD and colorectal cancer cases

“In our experiments, we observed that when gut microbes processed saturated fats, they will emit certain chemicals that lower the amount of ANGPLT4 produced by the cells, which then leads to more inflammation,” said Associate Professor Tan.

Prolonged inflammation can then lead to IBD and later, increase the risk of colon tumours. In Singapore, about 2,000 people suffer from IBD annually, and the numbers are rising sharply, NTU said.

Furthermore, according to a 2015 study, 10 in every 100,000 Singaporeans today have Crohn’s disease, a type of IBD, up from two per 100,000 two decades ago. Colorectal cancer is also one of the most common cancers in Singapore, with more than 9,300 cases diagnosed from 2010 to 2014.

The study’s findings supported the conventional advice of eating wholesome foods with less saturated fats and more probiotic content, which is usually found in fermented foods such as yoghurt or kimchi.

“The types of food being processed by the gut will change the microbe community. A high intake of saturated fat could increase the prevalence and replication of harmful pathogens, suppressing ANGPLT4 and causing even more inflammation,” he explained.

It was also found that dietary probiotics favour beneficial microbes that form a protective barrier along the gut. Therefore retaining a barrier in the gut may be one of the ways in which the ANGPTL4 protein keeps harmful bacteria out from the microbe community.

Trans fat found to contribute to hardening and narrowing of arteries

In related research, NTU collaborated with a team from Waganingen University in the Netherlands to discover the effects that trans fat has on gut health. The study was published last week and found that consumption of trans fat did not contribute to IBD symptoms but may result in the hardening and narrowing of arteries in the long term.

“In short, the public should eat food that are high in unsaturated fats, like avocado and olive oil, while avoiding foods containing saturated fat, like butter, and trans fat, like margarine,” Associate Professor Tan said.

“At the same time, foods containing probiotics, such as yoghurt, should also be consumed, as they improve the health of the gut.”

The team hopes to expand its research to find methods for early detection of cardiovascular disease and the reduction of gut inflammation.

Both studies were funded by the NTU iFood Research Grant and Singapore’s Ministry of Education, and supported by NTU-KI and the Nanyang President’s Graduate Scholarship. MIMS

Read more:
11 healthy diet habits debunked
Doctors are missing subtle warning signs of heart attack
A lifelong battle: Crohn’s Disease increasingly prevalent in Malaysia and Singapore