Ulcerative colitis: The causes of chronic bowel disease

Ulcerative colitis appears to have several causes. Numerous studies provide indications of what causes the onset of chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, ulcerative colitis has not yet been completely researched. In addition to the genes, many other factors play a role.
 

Possible causes of ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative colitis leads to severe inflammation of the intestine. The immune system can no longer distinguish correctly between healthy and harmful bacteria. As a result, the body's own defence system reacts unusually violently to bacteria in the intestinal mucosa.
A single and specific cause of ulcerative colitis does not seem to exist. As with Crohn's disease – ealso a chronic inflammatory bowel disease – studies suggest that a combination of several circumstances always leads to the outbreak of the disease1.

The genes

Scientists have repeatedly identified other genes whose alteration favours an outbreak of ulcerative colitis. However, the genetic predisposition plays a less important role in ulcerative colitis than in Crohn's disease. Although the risk may be increased in the family, ulcerative colitis does not usually erupt solely due to genetic conditions.

The living conditions

There are certain geographical regions in which chronic inflammatory bowel diseases occur more frequently. In developing countries ulcerative colitis is less common than in industrialized countries. And city dwellers also have an increased incidence of chronic inflammatory bowel disease, in contrast to people who live or at least grew up in rural areas. One of the differences is the hygienic conditions: a not too sterile environment seems to provide more resistance.

The diet

What a person ingests also has an influence on the intestine and possible diseases such as ulcerative colitis. A balanced diet seems to reduce the risk of ulcerative colitis. Fruit and vegetables, fibre and unsaturated fatty acids are just some of the nutritional building blocks the body needs regularly. Who nourishes itself one-sidedly, reaches frequently to strongly processed food and takes for example much sugar to itself, increases the probability of suffering from chronic inflammations in the intestine.

Ulcerative colitis: Different causes play together

According to current knowledge, however, all these factors cannot be considered as the sole cause of ulcerative colitis. The outbreak of the disease is in all probability influenced by a complex interaction of various environmental factors, genetic predisposition and the state of the intestinal flora.

Since everything influences each other, the actual cause of ulcerative colitis is difficult to determine. For example, someone living in the country obviously has a lower risk of developing the disease. This may be due to the fact that people there have more contact with nature and therefore more bacteria. This in turn increases the diversity of intestinal bacteria. It also makes the immune system more skilled at reacting to a variety of external influences.

On the other hand, excessively sterile environments – especially in children – prevent the development of a diverse microbiome. Early or frequent use of antibiotics can also lead to the death of important bacteria in the intestine and a lasting disturbance of the balance. Since the intestinal flora influences and regulates the immune system, an imbalance in the intestine can lead to disorders of the immune system.

Intestinal care with and without ulcerative colitis

There is a connection between chronic inflammatory intestinal diseases and the condition of the intestinal flora. This has already been proven by studies2. Persons suffering from ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease almost always show an imbalance of the intestinal flora. However, what was there first – the disturbed intestinal flora or the disease – has not been clarified beyond doubt.

Whether with a diagnosed illness or in good health, it never hurts to know what is going on in one's own bowel. BIOMES offers with INTEST.pro a test kit with which you can take a stool sample yourself and send it in for analysis. The scientists of BIOMES evaluate your sample according to modern biotechnological procedures with high-throughput sequencing. In the personal and detailed evaluation you will learn exactly which bacteria are present in your intestine and which are possibly missing. With the very personal recommendations for action, you can then specifically strengthen the bacterial diversity in your intestine.

1. Eisenstein M. Biology: A slow-motion epidemic. Nature. 2016:540, S98–9. https://www.nature.com/articles/540S98a
2. Ni J, Wu GD, Albenberg L, Tomov VT. Gut microbiota and IBD: causation or correlation? Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 ;14:573–84. https://www.nature.com/articles/540S98a