A fungus may trigger Crohn’s disease, a devastating inflammatory bowel disease that often requires heavy-duty drugs, surgery or a combination of both to keep at bay. The new finding, published in the September 2016 edition journal mBio, opens the door to more probiotic-based treatment options that could more gently treat and possibly even cure the digestive disease
Crohn’s disease symptoms are terribly painful and damaging to a person’s quality of life. Intense inflammation of the digestive tract, abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition are common. These serious symptoms prompt surgery in 75 percent of people living with Crohn’s disease, although nearly 40 percent of those undergoing surgery suffer a relapse of symptoms within a year. (1) This relentless inflammation and malabsorption over time, if left untreated, can lead to serious damage.
There is currently “no known cure” for Crohn’s. Many people take prescription medication, often ones that suppress the immune system, to control symptoms of this autoimmune disease. But the medical breakthrough suggesting a fungus may trigger Crohn’s disease is bringing a lot of hope and excitement not just for new treatments, but for a possible cure, as well.
For a long time, experts believed a combination of genetics, long-term stress, an inflammatory diet, exposure to certain infections or viruses, along with several other risk factors were to blame for the majority of inflammatory bowel disease cases. (That makes sense, since inflammation is at the roots of most diseases.) Knowing now that a fungus may trigger Crohn’s disease in the intestines builds on the idea that certain microorganisms in our microbiome can fuel autoimmune disease symptoms. (2, 3)
Let’s dig into the details of the new study finding a fungus may trigger Crohn’s disease.
Medical Breakthrough: A Fungus May Trigger Crohn’s Disease
For the first time ever, a team of scientists from around the world have identified a fungus as a key factor in the development of Crohn’s disease.
The researchers also linked a new bacterium in the microbiome to the previous bacteria associated with Crohn’s. The hope is that the groundbreaking study, published in the journal mBio, will lead to new treatments and, one day, a cure. (4)
The scientists involved with the study acknowledged that they already know that bacteria, along with genetics and dietary factors, play a major role in the development of Crohn’s disease. But fungus was a missing piece of the puzzle. Specifically, Candida tropicalis.
“Essentially, patients with Crohn’s have abnormal immune responses to these bacteria, which inhabit the intestines of all people. While most researchers focus their investigations on these bacteria, few have examined the role of fungi, which are also present in everyone’s intestines. Our study adds significant new information to understanding why some people develop Crohn’s disease. Equally important, it can result in a new generation of treatments, including medications and probiotics, which hold the potential for making qualitative and quantitative differences in the lives of people suffering from Crohn’s.” — Mahmoud A Ghannoum, PhD, professor and director of the Center for Medical Mycology at Case Western Reserve and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center (5)
Bacteria and fungi live inside all of us. But in this study, researchers investigated the microbial that live inside fecal samples of people sick with Crohn’s disease and their health relatives. Looking at hundreds of different species living in human intestines, they found a striking finding. A combination of two types of bacteria and the fungus, Candida tropicalis, was strongly linked to the Crohn’s group. The presence of all three in the sick family members was significantly higher compared to healthy relatives, suggesting that the bacteria and fungus interact in the intestines.
And get this. This microbial trio, including the bacteria E. coli and Serratia marcescens and the fungus Candida tropicalis, worked together to form a bridge that connected the microbes and formed a slimy biofilm. This thin layer attaches to the intestines, prompting inflammation and Crohn’s disease symptoms.
This is first time any fungus has been linked to Crohn’s in humans. It is also the first study to implicate S. marcescens in the Crohn’s-linked bacteriome. Another important finding? People living with Crohn’s disease had much lower levels of healthy bacteria in their intestines. This backs up previous findings.
Final Thoughts on A Fungus that May Trigger Crohn’s Disease
So many autoimmune diseases are rooted in our guts. And it’s clear even in this technologically advanced world we’re still only beginning to understand the intricate ways the microorganisms in our gut interact with each other — and impact our health. Yes, some of us may be genetically programmed to be more susceptible to certain diseases, but by creating the best healthy balance in our guts, we can ward off modern day ailments.
We face many environmental and dietary threats our ancestors never had to deal with. Pesticides, household chemicals, GMOs and manmade, inflammatory ingredients, to name a few. This study is a major step in the right right direction and proves we really need to be paying more attention to the microbial balance in our guts if we want to live healthier lives. Learn about the signs and symptoms of leaky gut and heal your gut to start building the best digestive tract and health of your life.