Crohn's disease, a relapsing inflammatory disease of the gut, is yet another illness of 21st century living that has reached epidemic proportions. Little is known about it other than that it seems to be caused by some interaction with our environment and among people with a genetic disposition.
But researchers from the Foundation Jean Dausset in Paris have advanced the argument with an interesting hypothesis. They argue that bacteria that can exist and grow at extremely cold temperatures as low as minus 10 centigrade may be responsible for the disease in susceptible people.
The spread of the disease certainly coincides with the use of refrigerators in the family home, and also the cold processing and freezing of food we buy in the shops.
The first case of Crohn's was identified in 1913, while the first refrigerating machines were built in 1875 and started to appear in homes in the United States in the first part of the 20th century. But the rise of the refrigerator really occurred after the World War II, just as Crohn's started becoming a more prevalent disease.
There are just a few bacteria that can thrive in extreme cold, and none has ever been studied as a possible cause of Crohn's. Perhaps it's time to start.
(Source: The Lancet, 2003; 362: 2012-15).