Objective: Dietary linoleic acid, an n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid, is metabolised to arachidonic acid, a component of colonocyte membranes. Metabolites of arachidonic acid have pro-inflammatory properties and are increased in the mucosa of patients with ulcerative colitis. The aim of this investigation was to conduct the first prospective cohort study investigating if a high dietary intake of linoleic acid increases the risk of developing incident ulcerative colitis.
Design and setting: Dietary data from food frequency questionnaires were available for 203 193 men and women aged 30-74 years, resident in the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Germany or Italy and participating in a prospective cohort study, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). These participants were followed up for the diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. Each case was matched with four controls and the risk of disease calculated by quartile of intake of linoleic acid adjusted for gender, age, smoking, total energy intake and centre.
Results: A total of 126 participants developed ulcerative colitis (47% women) after a median follow-up of 4.0 years (range, 1.7-11.3 years). The highest quartile of intake of linoleic acid was associated with an increased risk of ulcerative colitis (odds ratio (OR) = 2.49, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.23 to 5.07, p = 0.01) with a significant trend across quartiles (OR = 1.32 per quartile increase, 95% CI = 1.04 to 1.66, p = 0.02 for trend).
Conclusions: The data support a role for dietary linoleic acid in the aetiology of ulcerative colitis. An estimated 30% of cases could be attributed to having dietary intakes higher than the lowest quartile of linoleic acid intake.