Emu oil has been found to have therapeutic potential for a range of common bowel diseases, according to new research from the University of Adelaide.

The traditional indigenous treatment, usually used as a skin wound treatment, has found that the oil not only contains anti-inflammatory properties, but has been shown to also help repair damage to the bowel, such as that caused by chemotherapy.

Adelaide University PhD candidate Suzanne Mashtoub Abimsleh has conducted laboratory experiments that shows that emu oil accelerates the repair process following disease-causing injury by stimulating growth of intestinal ‘crypts’, which form part of the intestine which absorbs food.

"Longer crypts and villi mean a healthier bowel that can better absorb food," says Research Leader Professor Gordon Howarth, Cancer Council Senior Research Fellow with the University's School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences.

Ms Abimosleh says: "Disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, such as the inflammatory bowel diseases and chemotherapy-induced mucositis, are associated with malabsorption of food together with inflammation and ulceration of the bowel lining (mucosa).

"The variable responsiveness of treatments to these diseases shows the need to broaden approaches, to reduce inflammation, prevent damage and promote healing."

A series of laboratory studies showed emu oil treatment:

  • produced greater elongation of intestinal crypts (indicating enhanced recovery and repair) and reduced the severity of damage in intestines affected with ulcerative colitis;
  • significantly decreased acute intestinal inflammatory activity in non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)-induced gastrointestinal disease;
  • decreased acute inflammation and improved repair of the chemotherapy-damaged intestine.

"The symptoms of mucositis - which include painful ulcers throughout the gastrointestinal tract - are experienced by 40-60% of all cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy worldwide and currently there are no effective treatment options," says Ms Abimosleh.

Professor Howarth says the next steps include clinical trials, possibly initially with patients suffering from conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.