Researchers Reveal Mechanism That May Underlie Irritable Bowel Syndrome

KU Leuven (Belgium) researchers have identified a biological mechanism that explains why some people experience abdominal pain when they eat certain foods. The finding paves the way for more efficient treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other food intolerances. The study, carried out in mice and humans, was published online on January 13, 2021 in Nature. The article is titled “Local Immune Response to Food Antigens Drives Meal-Induced Abdominal Pain.” Up to 20% of the world's population suffers from IBS, which causes stomach pain or severe discomfort after eating. This affects their quality of life. Gluten-free and other diets can provide some relief, but why this works is a mystery, because the patients are not allergic to the foods in question, nor do they have known conditions such as celiac disease. "Very often these patients are not taken seriously by physicians, and the lack of an allergic response is used as an argument that this is all in the mind, and that they don't have a problem with their gut physiology," says Professor Guy Boeckxstaens (photo), MD, PhD, a gastroenterologist at KU Leuven and lead author of the new research. “With these new insights, we provide further evidence that we are dealing with a real disease.” His team’s laboratory and clinical studies reveal a mechanism that connects certain foods with activation of the cells that release histamine (called mast cells), and subsequent pain and discomfort. Earlier work by Professor Boeckxstaens and his colleagues showed that blocking histamine, an important component of the immune system, improves the condition of people with IBS.
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