If you’ve ever suffered from any discomfort in the gut that led to such super-fun activities like cramping and diarrhea, then you have an inkling of knowing what sufferers of Crohn’s disease go through every day. The chronic inflammatory bowel disease affects around 700,000 Americans, and other symptoms include intestinal swelling, vomiting, and fever, and a new study from Case Western Reserve University may have discovered a non-invasive and medication-free way to help lessen the gut discomfort.

Researchers found that when they fed mice with a condition like Crohn’s fatty acids from plants like coconut oil or cocoa butter, the beneficial oils changed their gut bacteria populations drastically, knocking down the diversity by around 30%. This change in bacteria composition ended up reducing the inflammation in the small intestine, which could lessen symptoms in people fed a similar diet.

"The finding is remarkable because it means that a Crohn's patient could also have a beneficial effect on their gut bacteria and inflammation simply by switching the type of fat in his diet," said study lead Alexander Rodriguez-Palacios, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University. "Patients would only need to replace a 'bad' fat with a 'good' fat, and eat normal amounts."

The key for future treatments is trying to understand which parts of the “good” and “bad” fats alter gut bacteria populations and soothe inflammation. "Ultimately, we aim to identify the 'good' fat-loving microbes for testing as probiotics," he said. "Diet is something we are very hopeful could help at least some patients without the side-effects and risks carried by drugs. The trick now is to really discover what makes a fat 'good' or 'bad' for Crohn's disease."