New Link Between Diet, Intestinal Stem Cells and Disease

An unhealthy diet can increase the risk for diabetes, obesity, and gastrointestinal cancer. Researchers have discovered some new insights that help them better understand the connection between the molecular mechanisms responsible for this. The findings open an avenue for developing non-invasive therapies.

A person’s energy balance is maintained by the intestine and it reacts quickly when changes in its nutrient balance and nutrition occur. It does this with the assistance of intestinal cells along with food absorption and hormone secretion. Every 5-7 days these cells regenerate.

Intestinal stem cells are constantly renewing and developing into intestinal cells. This ability is critical for the digestive system to maintain normal adaptability. An unhealthy diet consisting of fats and sugar disrupt this adaptation and can lead to the development of gastrointestinal cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

The research team wanted to find out the molecular mechanisms contributing to this maladptation. They assumed that intestinal stem cells play an important role. By using mice, they measured how a diet high in fats and sugar affected the cells and then compared the results to a control group.

Their findings showed that the size of the small intestine increased substantially with the unhealthy diet. They then compared 27,000 intestinal cells from the high fat/high sugar diet group to the control group. The intestinal stem cells divided and changed faster in the mice on the unhealthy diet. The team hypothesized this happens due to an upregulation of the signaling pathways that links an acceleration of tumor growth in many types of cancer. This is a probable important link that diet influences metabolic signaling leading to an excessive growth of intestinal stem cells and a high risk of gastrointestinal cancer.

With a high resolution technique, the team were able to study cell types that are rare in the intestine. They demonstrated that an unhealthy diet produces less serotonin in the intestine. The study also showed that absorbing cells adapt to the high fat diet and the functionality increases which produces weight gain.

The findings lead to a new understanding of disease mechanisms that are linked to a high calorie diet. They are of critical importance for the development of alternative non-invasive therapies. As of now there are no pharmacological approaches to stop, prevent or reverse diabetes and obesity. Only bariatric surgery can cause permanent weight loss and can lead to a remission of diabetes. These surgeries are non-reversible, invasive and costly.

New non-invasive therapies could be a reality at the hormonal level through targeted regulation of serotonin levels. The group will be examining this and other approaches in later studies.

To view the original scientific study click below:Diet-induced alteration of intestinal stem cell function underlies obesity and prediabetes in mice