Personal view: food for thought – western lifestyle and susceptibility to Crohn's disease. The FODMAP hypothesis


Prof. P. Gibson, Department of Gastroenterology, Box Hill Hospital, Box Hill, Victoria 3128, Australia.


Susceptibility to the development of Crohn's disease involves a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The association of Crohn's disease with westernization has implicated lifestyle factors in pathogenesis. While diet is a likely candidate, evidence for specific changes in dietary habits and/or intake has been lacking.

A new hypothesis is proposed, by which excessive delivery of highly fermentable but poorly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates and polyols (designated FODMAPs – Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides And Polyols) to the distal small intestinal and colonic lumen is a dietary factor underlying susceptibility to Crohn's disease. The subsequent rapid fermentation of FODMAPs in the distal small and proximal large intestine induces conditions in the bowel that lead to increased intestinal permeability, a predisposing factor to the development of Crohn's disease. Evidence supporting this hypothesis includes the increasing intake of FODMAPs in western societies, the association of increased intake of sugars in the development of Crohn's disease, and the previously documented effects of the ingestion of excessive FODMAPs on the bowel. This hypothesis provides potential for the design of preventive strategies and raises concern about current enthusiasm for putative health-promoting effects of FODMAPs.

One of the greatest challenges in defining the pathogenesis of Crohn's disease is to identify predisposing environmental factors. Such an achievement might lead to the development of preventive strategies for, and the definition of, possible target for changing the natural history of this serious disease. The present paper describes a new hypothesis for one such environmental factor.