A Canadian study concludes, yet again, that urbanization influences the development of intestinal microbiomes. The gut bacteria plays a direct role in the occurrence of illnesses such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These are lifelong conditions which can cause chronic diarrhea, bloody stool, weight loss, and abdominal pain. However, this new research implies that simply changing where you live can significantly reduce the risk of developing these disorders.
A team of researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), and the Canadian Gastro-Intestinal Epidemiology Consortium (CanGIEC) published their results on American Journal of Gastroenterology. They found that living in a rural household decreased the risk of developing IBD, especially among young children and adolescents.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Eric Benchimol says on Science Daily, “Our findings show that children, particularly those under the age of 10, experience a protective effect against IBD if they live in a rural household. This effect is particularly strong in children who are raised in a rural household in the first five years of life.”
Dr. Benchimol emphasized the importance of his team’s findings as the number of children being diagnosed with the disorder has grown excessively in the last 20 years. “The findings also strengthen our understanding that environmental risk factors that predispose people to IBD may have a stronger effect in children than adults,” he added.
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These conclusions were made after identifying more than 45,000 IBD patients in four major Canadian provinces (Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Manitoba) from 1999 to 2010. Of this population, around 6,000 lived in rural residences with the rest from an urban area. This was calculated to an overall IBD incidence of approximately 31 out of 100,000 persons developing IBD from a rural background, compared with 33 per 100,000 in the urban population.
The researchers hypothesized that living environments play a distinct role in gastrointestinal health. However, they were also quick to point out that the other studies that link urbanization to higher rates of IBD are full of inconsistencies. This may be caused by varying definitions of the term “rurality.” Regardless, they caution the public to take their study with a grain of salt, suggesting further research into the topic.
Dr. Benchimol concluded, “We’ve known that in addition to genetic risk factors, environmental factors have been associated with the risk of developing IBD. But this new study demonstrates the importance of early life exposure in altering the risk of IBD, and that needs further study.” (Related: New Research Shows That Meditation May Relieve IBS.)
IBD occurs when the gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed or swollen. Unfortunately, this disruption causes a chain reaction, becoming a lifelong immune response. The exact cause for this disorder is still unclear, but the effects are well-documented. Patients with IBD typically complain of severe diarrhea, cramps, rectal bleeding, and weight loss. The two main types of IBD are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Both types of conditions have times of remissions spaced in between moments of relapse. There is no known cure for the condition, although there are ways to better manage it.
National prevalence estimates are either outdated or limited. Nevertheless, the CDC believes that around one percent of U.S. adults have the condition. This is equivalent to around three million people. The number is suspected to grow.
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