A fruity way to ease pain. As further clinical trials get under way, the eventual aim of the Liverpool scientists is to develop a product made from concentrated plantain. The extract of the plantain’s most potent properties to help control the rise in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Up to 6,000 cases of Crohn’s are diagnosed each year. Mostly in the 15-24 age group, and numbers are rising.
The symptoms of the condition include abdominal pain, diarrhoea and weight loss. “Crohn’s causes immense discomfort and often requires surgery”, says Professor Jonathan Rhodes, the gasteroenterologist who lead the study. With this fruity way, it seems that fibre and protein in plantain reduce disease activity by preventing bacteria from sticking to the gut lining. Thought to be one of the major causes of the swelling in IBD.
Fruity Way to combat bacterial
Richard Driscoll, director of the National Association for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease, welcomes the fruity way as “a potentially important development”. No cause of the disease has been confirmed, although the most likely reason is that, in response to a viral or bacterial infection, the body’s own bacteria are triggered into acting the gut lining, causing inflammation.
Conventional treatment includes prescribed drugs such as steroids and antibiotics; a major trial funded by the European Union is investigating whether diatary manipulation is as effective as drugs for some patients. In the most severe cases, though, the disease causes swelling and scar tissue which lead to thickening of the gut wall and intestinal blockages. Surgery is often necessary to remove damaged parts of the intestine.
Plantains provide high amounts of soluble fibre, or non-starch polysaccharides, that stop the intestinal lining from attracting bacteria and so minimise swelling. “There is a positive interaction between the soluble fibre in plantains and gut flora,” Rhodes says. “At the moment someone could getthose effects only by eating every day, so we are working to produce a concentrated extract.” A government-funded scheme means that Liverpool University holds the patent for a plantain-based drink that it is developing with Provexis, the British biotechnology company.
“If it proves successful, it could be available in about three years,” says Dr Stephen Franklin, of Provexis.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that plantains can help a range of ailments. Often known as the “green banana”. The plantain contains more “resistant” starch than ordinary bananas. Primarily, because it is usually eaten before it is fully ripe. A high intake of this starch is linked to a reduced risk of bowel cancer.
In many parts of the world where plantain flour is a dietary staple, such as India and Africa, they have a low incidence of Crohn’s disease.
“We haven’t shown for certain that the soluble fibre in ordinary bananas and other fruits cannot be helpful to,” adds Professor Rhodes.
Plantains must be cooked before being eaten, but are low in calories – about 120 per 4oz serving – and give a sustained energy burst, making them a favourite with athletes.
Colitis and Crohn’s Disease