Could a healthy lifestyle save you from irritable bowel disease?

Close-up of female hands on stomach.  High quality photosA new study suggests that people with healthy lifestyle habits could have a significantly lower risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease.

Work published in the journal Gut suggests that up to 60 percent of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle.

This is great news, especially if you are concerned about this condition and are getting older. This is because the older you are, the less role your genes play in your risk of developing an inflammatory disease.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affects more than three million adults in the US. Its symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps and fatigue. Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are both forms of IBD.

Older studies have shown that certain lifestyle factors are associated with the condition, but it was not previously known whether following certain habits could prevent Crohn’s or colitis. The researchers came up with two lists of health factors thought to influence the risk of IBD.

One of the lists was “modifiable lifestyle factors” and included:

  • Obesity (with a BMI of 30 or more).
  • Smoking
  • Frequency of NSAID use (more than 2 times a week)
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Low daily intake of fruits, vegetables, fiber, nuts and seeds
  • High intake of red meat

The second list was more specific and included several healthy habits that were used to create a “lifestyle risk score” for IBD. It included:

  • Have a BMI between 18.5 and 25
  • Never smoke
  • Regular exercise
  • Limit alcohol consumption to 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men
  • Eat at least eight servings of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Limiting red meat to less than half a serving per day
  • Eat fish twice a week
  • Intake of 25 grams of fiber per day
  • Eat at least half a serving of nuts and seeds a day

The researchers then examined how each set of lifestyle factors could predict whether participants in three large US studies involving nearly 290,000 people developed Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis.

They found that a low score on modifiable risk factors could prevent about two out of every five cases of each. They also found that a high lifestyle risk factor score could have prevented more than 60 percent of Crohn’s disease and 42 percent of ulcerative colitis.

All factors can contribute to the risk of IBD in different ways. Some promote inflammation, others fight against it. Others can harm the digestive microbes in the gut, while others are beneficial.

Either way, this study shows that your lifestyle can greatly affect your risk of irritable bowel syndrome.

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