In case you missed it, I was on CTV National News earlier this week, talking about my general experience with inflammatory bowel disease, and specifically how my disease’s development fits in with results of a new study on IBD in Canada. Dr. Eric Benchimol, along with other researchers from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES, not to be confused with ISIS) and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) found that children who immigrate to Canada appear to take on the same risk of developing IBD that Canadian children face.
From the article, which appeared in The American Journal of Gastroenterology (10 March 2015):
Children of immigrants from the Middle East/North Africa, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and North America/Western Europe had similar risk of IBD as children of nonimmigrants; however, the incidence remained lower among children of immigrants from other regions.
Younger age at arrival to Canada increased the risk of IBD in immigrants. Canadian-born children of immigrants from some regions assumed the high Canadian incidence of IBD, indicating that the underlying risk is activated with earlier life exposure to the Canadian environment in certain groups.
The results were interesting, but not surprising for a first generation Canadian such as myself. I’ve heard the catch-all yet indistinct explanation that IBD is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors many times before. From that I deduced my ancestors always had a genetic predisposition to develop IBD, but the symptoms of the disease never appeared because nothing in their environment triggered them. Being the first in my family to be born in, and grow up in, a different environment led me to develop full-blown ulcerative colitis. What exactly it is about Canada’s environment that triggers IBD remains a mystery, which is exactly why more research into IBD is needed.
Soon after CTV published the piece online, my IBD comrade Margaret alerted me to the nuggets of wisdom being shared in the comments section below the story. Rational, illuminating, and well-researched proclamations such as these:
Since such statements shouldn’t go unchallenged, I’ll say this:
To Terry Pavlenko:
Gee, why didn’t I, or anyone else with IBD, think of that? Yep, no one with IBD has ever changed their diet in an attempt to stop the suffering. If organic foods could effectively stop our immune system’s dysfunctional attacks our own bodies, everyone with IBD would be symptom-free because of course we’d eat differently.
At some point or another, and in various combination, I’ve eliminated gluten, dairy, eggs, red meat, and non-organic foods from my diet. I still had to have my colon removed. Some IBD patients have had success changing their diets. Others, like me, have not. To suggest such a simple, and purely theoretical strategy, for a disease so complex doesn’t further our understanding of IBD, which is what’s needed to truly help patients.
I’m very sorry your son developed UC, but do you really believe that 8 months of eating a few genetically modified foods were enough to trigger his disease? It seems more likely to me that the environments of both Canada and England contributed to the onset of his UC.
IBD is an autoimmune disease, and as such, there is a very real possibility that cleansing routines in the developed world – particularly the use of antibacterial soaps – are contributing to changes in our immune systems. It’s not at all ridiculous to suggest that Western hygienic practices are a contributing factor in IBD. I would assume people in England, and throughout Europe, do indeed wash their hands. And I suppose that has nothing to do with the fact that Europe has the highest prevalence of IBD in the world.
People are quick to blame Western diets for IBD, but remember that the study here linked the development of IBD with the Canadian environment, and there’s more to our environment than just what we eat.
I’d go back to where I came from, but I already live in Toronto.
And if you think I relish being a burden on our healthcare system, I’d suggest you read this.
My thanks to Dr. Benchimol for his efforts to better understand IBD, both at the clinical and research levels. Thanks as well to Avis Favaro, CTV’s medical specialist, for covering the study’s publication and for taking the time to come to my office to speak with me. Lastly, thanks to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada for putting me in touch with ICES and Avis. I hope this study spurs more research, less presumption, and better understanding of the true pathology of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.