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Environmental Triggers of IBD: East & West

New Research Reveals Environmental Triggers of IBD Differ in the East & West: A Blog

The exact causes of IBD remain elusive, but mounting evidence suggests an interplay of genetic susceptibility and triggers in our childhood environment contribute to the risk of disease development later in life. 

Early dietary habits play a large role in disease development, correlating with recent findings on the gut microbiome and its impact on immune and digestive health. Studies show that patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis had more exposure to processed foods before developing their conditions. 

The research links high consumption of fats, omega-6 fatty acids, and meat with a higher risk of IBD, whereas a high intake of vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of disease development.  

Environmental & Dietary Factors in the Development of IBD 

Researchers have also unearthed a range of other environmental factors that may contribute to the risk of IBD. For example, children growing up in households with more siblings appear to have a reduced risk of developing IBD. 

Not that there’s some magical influence of squabbling with siblings to guard against the condition. Rather, it’s likely that living in crowded environments reduces the disease risk, perhaps because more exposure to bacteria and germs contributes to stronger gut health and immunity. 

An insightful meta-analysis, published in the medical journal APT by our research colleagues from Sun Yat-Sen University, examined the difference in environmental factors that predispose individuals to IBD in Western versus East Asian populations. To tackle this question, they thoroughly mapped all evidence on this topic published in medical literature to date. 

The analysis found that smoking, family history of IBD, and heavy consumption of meat products were associated with an increased risk of developing Crohn’s disease – in both West and East Asia. Researchers believe that the high intake of protein and fat in meat can lead to “disturbances” in the gut microbiota. This ultimately increases intestinal mucosal permeability which can exacerbate intestinal inflammation. 

They also found that members of both populations who had been breastfed showed a reduced risk of developing Crohn’s, with more protection against the disease later in life. Breast milk contains substances that promote immune development and anti-inflammatory responses, which may help guard against IBD later in life. 

IBD Development: East vs. West 

Growing up with farm animals or pets reduced the risk of Crohn’s for both populations. Again, this may be due to the exposure to more bacteria and germs in the household that, during childhood, contribute to higher levels of microbial diversity – the lack of which has been linked to IBD

It’s very interesting to note that those from Western populations showed an increased risk of developing IBD if they’d received large quantities of antibiotics during childhood or consumed soft drinks, whereas no correlation was found in Eastern populations. Higher fat intake in diet was linked with Crohn’s in East-Asian patients only. 

Although breastfeeding in both populations appeared to protect against Crohn’s, it only reduced the risk of ulcerative colitis for those in the West. Drinking more coffee also reduced the risk of UC in both populations, but eating more fruits was only protective for East Asian populations. 

This research shows that some factors in modernized industrial living, our modern food habits, and diet may increase the risk of developing IBD. 

The survey is important for providing the first evidence that some factors are universal to all patients, while other risk factors uniquely increase the risk of IBD in the West but not in the East, or vice versa. This may help us better identify the really crucial drivers of the modern “plague of IBD” and how to better prevent it. 


Shomron Ben-Horin


Shomron Ben-Horin


This blog is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment, or medical advice. The content provided is for informational purposes only. Please consult with a physician or healthcare professional regarding any medical or health-related diagnosis or treatment options. The claims made regarding specific products in this blog are not approved to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.

Shomron Ben-Horin


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