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What causes inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

What causes inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the umbrella disease category that includes Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC), is still mysterious. Progress has been made in IBD research, but investigators do not yet know what causes it.

No one knows what triggers IBD, but there’s consensus as to what doesn’t. Researchers no longer believe that diet and stress are main causes, although stress, certain foods or inadequate nutrition may aggravate IBD symptoms. That’s why easing stress, maintaining a proper diet and good nutrition can really help reduce the frequency and severity of IBD symptoms.

Scientists suspect that IBD inflammation involves a complex interaction of factors: genes, the immune system and something environmental that is hard to specifically identify as a cause. Antigen (symptom-causing) particles in the environment may be the direct cause of the inflammation, or these may prompt some people’s immune systems to “go into overdrive” trying to protect the body. One way the immune system does that is via inflammation, and it appears that the immune systems of people with IBD produce over-reactive, poorly controlled inflammation in the GI tract. Researchers believe that once the IBD patient’s immune system is “turned on,” it does not know how to properly “turn off”. As a result, inflammation damages the bowel and causes IBD symptoms. This is why the main goal of medical therapy for IBD is to help patients regulate their immune system.