Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Lifestyle, Genetics, and Environmental Factors

Inflammatory bowel disease is a general term for disorders involving the chronic swelling of the digestive tract, which can cause permanent damage. IBD occurs in either of two ways: ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

Ulcerative colitis causes chronic inflammation and ulcers in the innermost lining of the rectum and large intestine. Crohn’s disease, on the other hand, is the swelling of the lining of the GI tract, which can spread to other parts of the body, such as the mouth and anus. Both disorders cause abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue.

Undetermined Causes

Despite active research, scientists and medical experts still can’t pinpoint the factors that cause IBD. This is a problem because until they determine what the cause is, they won’t be able to develop a cure for the disease. But IBD treatment plans are available for those who need to manage the symptoms of their condition.

One possible cause is immune system malfunction. Scholars suspect that as the immune system tries to ward off pathogens and viruses, an abnormal response causes it to attack the cells in the digestive tract as well.

The medical community also believes that factors like lifestyle and heredity increase the risk for IBD.

Genetic Makeup as a Factor of IBD

radiologist looking at an x-rayAt first, scholars suspected that IBD runs in families. But the evidence was weak because it wasn’t a parent-to-child transfer, which is the common indication of inherited conditions. But recently, medical experts have confirmed that there is a genetic component to IBD.

More than 200 genetic variations in the DNA code has an association with IBD. And this figure continues to rise as molecular biotechnology evolves each day. An article in the Journal of Autoimmunity studied identical twins to determine the weight of genetic factors in IBD. The researchers found that identical twins have 10 times the risk for Crohn’s disease compared to non-identical twins, and four times the risk for ulcerative colitis.

This finding means that although IBD isn’t necessarily passed down from parent to child, genetic makeup still has a contributing factor to the disease. Scientists have yet to find what triggers these genes to cause IBD. They’re pointing to external factors, such as environment, diet, or lifestyle, that may be triggering the disorder.

External Factors of IBD

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says IBD affects some subpopulations more than others. For one, ulcerative colitis has a slightly higher occurrence in males and Crohn’s disease is more common in females.

The CDC also states IBD is more frequent in people of Caucasian and Ashkenazic Jewish descent than other racial groups. Although this needs more thorough exploration, the trends in reported cases on certain ethnic and racial minorities and geographic regions support the claim.

The concentration of IBD cases in certain subpopulations suggest that the shared lifestyle, diet, environment, or other external factors in these areas may be triggering the disorder.

An article in The Lancet highlights the evolution of IBD across the globe. It reveals that the incidences of the disorder have increased in newly industrialized countries as they become more and westernized. This puts industrialization and the Western lifestyle under the spotlight as culprits for rising IBD rates.

Diet seems to be the most crucial factor in IBD cases. Western diet is characterized by food rich in animal protein and low in fiber. It’s also associated with reduced gut microbial biodiversity, which increases the risk for IBD and other chronic diseases. New studies show that IBD therapy focused on replacing Western diets with a plant-based one is more successful than methods used in earlier research.

Plenty of the claims about the causes of IBD are still initial conclusions. But these open new opportunities for exploration and unearth relevant information regarding the disorder. As the medical community continues to study IBD, affected patients are closer to receiving better treatments for their conditions.

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