GASTROENTEROLOGY 

 A new study of Japanese children reveals that those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease are deficient of vital micronutrients like selenium and zinc, especially those with Crohn’s disease. 

Irritable bowel disease — or IBD — including such diseases as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, are relapsing bouts of bowel inflammation that can trigger a number of highly unpleasant symptoms. 

A recent study carried out on Japanese children under the age of 17 years has shown that there is a link between the prevalence of these disorders and deficiencies of essential micronutrients such as selenium and zinc. 

SIGNIFICANTLY LOWER LEVELS OF ANTIOXIDANTS 

The study, which was published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences in June 2021, includes 98 patients with Crohn’s disease, 118 patients with ulcerative colitis, and 43 healthy controls without any of these conditions. 

By comparing disease prevalence and micronutrient status, the researchers could clearly see how levels of the two antioxidants were significantly lower in patients with IBD, especially those patients suffering from Crohn’s disease. 

VITAL FOR THE BODY’S INFLAMMATION DEFENCE 

Both selenium and zinc are involved in a host of different biological processes that are related to inflammation. Selenium is needed for normal functioning of some selenium-dependent enzymes called selenoproteins, of which there are around 25-30 in the human body. Two of these selenoproteins, selenoproteins S and selenoprotein K, have a role in dialling-down inflammatory signalling pathways. In other words, selenium supports selenoproteins that have a proven inflammatory effect. 

IMPORTANT TO GET ENOUGH 

Zinc also plays a vital role. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that zinc deficiency increases the number of pro-inflammatory cells and promotes intestinal leakage of certain inflammatory cytokines (white blood cells) that are known to worsen inflammation in the intestinal area. 

It is therefore essential for people with bowel inflammation to make sure to get sufficient quantities of selenium and zinc, as this helps control their symptoms. 

DESTROYS THE INTESTINAL NUTRIENT UPTAKE 

The problem is that irritable bowel diseases negatively affect the absorption of micronutrients from food, as the inflammation has a harmful impact on the intestinal mucosa. 

Therefore, IBD sufferers have difficulty with getting the much-needed nutrients into the bloodstream, simply because the mechanisms that allow micronutrients to pass through the intestinal membrane are flawed. 

Supplementation with selenium and zinc appears to be a rather obvious solution, as this is an easy way to access therapeutic doses of both nutrients. 

A ROLE IN CANCER PROTECTION? 

Besides a protective role in inflammatory bowel disorders, selenium and zinc have been shown to have a prophylactic effect on colorectal adenomas, which are benign tumour growths that can potentially develop into bowel cancer if left untreated. 

In a randomised, controlled Italian study that was published in the Journal of Gastroenterology in 2013, supplementation with selenium and zinc plus vitamins A, B6, C, and E was shown to significantly reduce recurrence of adenomas in the large bowel in patients who had undergone surgical removal of adenomas prior to supplementation. 

The five-year intervention period where participants were randomly assigned to either active supplementation or placebo turned out to reduce by approximately 50 per cent the risk of adenoma recurrence.