Environmental triggers for inflammatory bowel disease

Ashwin N Ananthakrishnan
Current Gastroenterology Reports 2013, 15 (1): 302
Inflammatory bowel diseases [IBD; Crohn's disease (CD), ulcerative colitis (UC)] are chronic immunologically mediated diseases that are due to a dysregulated immune response to intestinal flora in a genetically susceptible host. Despite advances in genetics, the likelihood of occurrence of disease remains incompletely explained and there appears to be a strong role for the environment in mediating risk of disease. Smoking remains the most widely studied and replicated risk factor, contributing to increased risk and severity of CD while conferring protection against UC. Recent data has suggested novel risk factors. Lower plasma vitamin D is associated with an increased risk of Crohn's disease, and vitamin D supplementation may prevent relapse of disease. Several medications including oral contraceptives, post-menopausal hormone replacement, aspirin, NSAIDs, and antibiotics may increase risk of CD or UC with the mechanisms of effect remaining inadequately defined. There is continuing evidence that depression and psychosocial stress may play a role in the pathogenesis of both CD and UC, while at the same time also increasing risk for disease flares. There is also a growing understanding of the role of diet on IBD, in particular through its effect on the microbiome. Animal protein intake and n-6 fatty acids may increase risk of UC while n-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber may confer protection. The effect of diet on established disease remains poorly studied. There is need for routine measurement of a spectrum of environmental exposures in prospective studies to further our understanding.

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