Association between dietary Potassium & risk of Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis


21 Dec 2016

Association between dietary Potassium & risk of Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis

Protective effects of dietary potassium in bowel disease

Dr Amit Awasthi, Intermediate Fellow

Translational Health Science & Technology Institute, Gurgaon

Our recent study in collaboration with our colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has found for the first time that dietary potassium reduces the risk of developing a chronic inflammatory disorder of the gastrointestinal tract medically known as Inflammation Bowel Disease (IBD).  

Crohn’s disease (CD) and Ulcerative Colitis (UC) that constitute IBD are caused by imbalance between disease promoting (Th1 and Th17) immune cells, and disease suppressing  (Foxp3+ T-regulatory) immune cells.  These cells normally remain in homeostatic balance resulting in a “healthy bowel” free of disease. However, in response to environmental and gut microbial triggers, T cell immune balance is disrupted and disease promoting T cells leading to inflammation resulting in bowel injury requiring lifelong medical therapy. Why the gut environment is altered in IBD is a focus of scientific investigation. In our study, we specifically addressed the role of smoking, diet and hygiene, which in turn can affect the gut microbial community, in IBD. 

Our results suggest that dietary intake of potassium but not sodium is associated with decreased risk of developing Crohn’s disease.  Our data further demonstrated the underlying mechanism of potassium for such protective effect in IBD and demonstrated that the extracellular potassium modifies the T-cell response and promotes the generation of disease preventing T-cells. The long-term implication of these findings is that potassium rich diet has the ability to modulate the immune response and autoimmunity via induction of Foxp3-mediated T cells tolerance. We know the precise mechanisms by which dietary/extracellular potassium may modulate immune tolerance through regulating the Th17/Tregs balance.

Identification and Characterization of a Novel Association Between Dietary Potassium and Risk of Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Frontiers in Immunology. December 2016

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Image Credit Wellcome Photo Library, Wellcome Images

Description: Crohn's disease, Xray, abdominal