nflammatory bowel diseases affect nearly 1.6 million Americans. In individuals who are suffering from IBD, for some reason, the immune system becomes comprised. It mistakes beneficial cells, food, and bacteria for harmful foreign elements. In other instances, the inflammatory response merely will not stop. Either way, when this occurs, the immune system can harm the gastrointestinal tract, thus triggering chronic inflammation and symptoms of IBD. As the inflammation begins to take over the body, symptoms can negatively affect an individual’s overall quality of life. What’s more, both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can increase the risk of complications, such as colon cancer.
While there is no cure for these conditions, there are several treatment options available to help ease symptoms and manage the conditions. Moreover, while it is not clear as to what the exact cause is of both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, researchers have begun to conduct studies on the possibility of a genetic predisposition to inflammatory bowel disease. Today, more researchers have come together to share their findings on genetic information pertaining to IBD.
One particular study identified 71 new genes associated with IBD, many of which are common in other autoimmune conditions. The same study was conducted based on data from 75,000 patients with IBD.
On top of presenting a strong link between IBD and immune conditions through genetic variations, the research also uncovered a link between IBD genes and genes tied to the immune system’s response to mycobacterial infections. Similarities between the immune system’s response in Crohn’s disease and that seen in tuberculosis were also observed. Such approaches, combined with previous findings, have led researchers to pursue new pathways towards a better understanding of how genes interact with one another and their surrounding environment. The research brought forth a new genotyping tool, known as the immunochip, which analyzes around 200,000 sites associated with genes and autoimmune / inflammatory diseases. As a whole, this tool can uncover more results in determining what provokes or controls the autoimmune response in inflammatory bowel diseases.
In another large study, the DNA of 35,000 patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis was analyzed. The research suggested that a number of different diseases are hidden within Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, creating a large variety of inflammatory bowel disease. The study helped to provide insights into the progression of IBD and the rate at which the disease develops. While studies are still ongoing, researchers have found that by potentially identifying immune response triggers, individuals suffering from Crohn’s disease or UC can receive more effective treatments. Nowadays, there are several treatment options available for IBD and if used in an earlier intervention, it could help not only to improve the symptoms of the disease but also lower the risk of developing a severe form of the disease.
The genetic factors behind Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
Having a family history of Crohn’s disease or UC is the biggest risk factor for both diseases. Families with Crohn’s disease or UC share a few common genes and so any changes may alter the body’s immune response, thus prompting the diseases. Additionally, there are certain factors that seem to play a role in triggering Crohn’s disease or UC. They include the following:
- Twins offer the perfect opportunity to study the genetic roots of the diseases because their genes are most similar. Fraternal twins share 50% of their genes, while identical twins share most of the same DNA. For individuals who have UC and are also an identical twin, research shows that more than 15% of the time, the other twin will also have UC. For individuals who have Crohn’s disease and are also an identical twin, research shows that there is a 70% chance that the other twin will also have Crohn’s disease.
- Crohn’s disease and UC tend to run among close relatives. In fact, up to 25% of individuals with UC have a parent or sibling with IBD and the risk runs higher among more distant relatives, such as grandparents.
- UC is more common among individuals of a particular ethnicity, such as Caucasians and Jews of European descent
- Particular genes have been linked to both Crohn’s disease and UC. In Crohn’s disease, researchers have found a link between the disease and mutations in the genes located on chromosomes 5 and 10. Furthermore, mutations in the ATG16L1, IL23R, IRGM, and NOD2 genes appear to increase the risk of developing Crohn’s disease.
Other possible triggers include:
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Bacterial or viral infections, such as E.coli and measles
- A diet high in fat and sugar
- Lack of exposure to bacteria and other germs in childhood, which in turn prevents the immune system from developing normally throughout the one’s course of life
What you can do
The fact of the matter is that there is no way to prevent Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. However, there are ways that can help you to alleviate your symptoms and manage your condition. Such approaches include the following:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day as opposed to several large meals
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Practice relaxation techniques (yoga, meditation, and others)
- Maintain your levels of stress
- Get plenty of rest
- Avoid smoking
- Avoid taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications
- Drink in moderation
- Limit your intake of saturated fats and processed foods
- Limit your intake of milk and dairy products
- Limit your intake of high-fiber foods
- Cut down on caffeine
- Get enough vitamin D, calcium, and other nutrients
- Work with a dietician or nutritionist
- Get regular check-ups for colon cancer
- Stay up-to-date on your vaccinations
- Communicate your feelings
- Keep a symptoms journal
- Contact your doctor if you experience any unexpected or persistent symptoms
- Stick to your treatment plan
Most important, seek out support from family members, friends, and loved ones. Support groups are also a great way to open up and express your feelings with other individuals who are going through similar experiences you are. Every individual handles Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis differently. For this reason, you should decide for yourself who you wish to turn to and when. Once you are able to do so, it can go a long way towards helping you to stay motivated on maintaining both your physical and emotional well-being, as well as reaching a positive outlook in life.
Current treatments for IBD include immunosuppressants, steroids, and anti-inflammatory medications. While these treatments do not provide a cure, they can help alleviate symptoms and manage the progression of the disease in question. Researchers are still working on identifying singular genetic variations for each individual patient and their response to available treatment options, despite having the same IBD diagnosis. Identifying genetic variants responsible for inflammatory bowel disease can help improve and even uncover new treatment options for IBD and offer personalized care for patients in the years to come.