Living in rural households decreases a person’s risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), particularly for young children and adolescents, according to a new study by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), and the Canadian Gastro-Intestinal Epidemiology Consortium (CanGIEC).
“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,” said Dr. Eric Benchimol, lead author of the study, scientist at ICES and a pediatric gastroenterologist at the CHEO Inflammatory Bowel Disease Centre, in Ottawa.
Benchimol said the number of very young children diagnosed with IBD, a spectrum that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, has jumped over the past two decades and this study supports the hypothesis that increased urbanization plays a role.
These lifelong conditions cause inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to chronic diarrhea, blood in the stool, abdominal pains and weight loss.
Canada has among the highest rates of IBD in the world; it also has one of the highest rates of urbanization. The researchers suggest the intestinal microbiome is affected by different exposures early in life whether they are urban or rural, resulting in increased or decreased risk.
The study was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.