Growing up on a livestock farm halves the risk of inflammatory bowel diseases

July 11, 2014

New research conducted at Aarhus University has revealed that people who have grown up on a farm with livestock are only half as likely as their urban counterparts to develop the most common inflammatory bowel diseases: ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. The study findings have recently been published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

"It is extremely exciting that we can now see that not only allergic diseases, but also more classic appear to depend on the environment we are exposed to early in our lives," relates Vivi Schlünssen, Associate Professor in Public Health at Aarhus University.

Greater difference over the past 60 years

The study indicates that people born after 1952 who spent the first five years of their lives on a livestock farm are much better protected against the common inflammatory bowel diseases than the oldest people in the survey. In fact, results from the oldest age group seem to show that it made no difference whether the subjects grew up in town or country.

"This leads us to believe that there is a correlation between the rise in inflammatory bowel diseases and increasing urbanisation, given that more and more children are growing up in urban settings," adds Signe Timm, PhD student at Aarhus University.

"We know that development of the immune system is finalised in the first years of our lives, and we suspect that environmental influences may have a crucial effect on this development. The place where you grow up may therefore influence your risk of developing an later in life."

Variation of bacteria may have an effect

The new study does not reveal why the difference between growing up in a modern city and a rural setting has an effect on the immune system. However, the researchers have a theory that the body may be dependent on exposure to a wide variety of microorganisms to develop a healthy – in the same way as has been established in studies on allergies and asthma.

"We know that the difference in the microbial environment between city and country has increased over the past century, and that we are exposed to far fewer different bacteria in urban environments today than we were previously. This may in part explain our findings," says Signe Timm.

Is the protection hereditary?

More than 50,000 Danes suffer from or Crohn's disease. These conditions are now often appearing in young people, who have to live with them for the rest of their lives. Over the past 40–50 years, incidence of the diseases has sky-rocketed in Northern Europe – including Denmark – as well as in Canada and the United States, although they are still relatively rare in developing countries.

As a part of her PhD project, Signe Timm will be contacting the 20,000 or so children of the participants in the current study to establish whether the same tendencies can be found in the next generation. She will also be investigating whether the effect of can be handed down to the next generation as a result of a complex interplay between genes and the environment – i.e. if children can 'inherit', so to speak, the protective effect their parents have obtained from growing up on a farm with livestock.

Explore further: A Crohn's disease-associated gene expression profile and microbial community

Related Stories

A Crohn's disease-associated gene expression profile and microbial community

July 8, 2014
Crohn's and other inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) can be painful and debilitating. There are no known cures for these diseases, but the symptoms can be managed. It is widely thought that IBDs develop as a result of an ...

Crab and other crustacean shells may help prevent and treat inflammatory disease

June 24, 2014
Microparticles in crab, shrimp and lobster shells have anti-inflammatory mechanisims that could lead to the development of novel preventive and therapeutic strategies for those who suffer from IBD. Since these shells are ...

Scientists uncover protective influence of Vitamin A against inflammatory bowel disease

June 5, 2013
Scientists at Trinity College Dublin have made novel discoveries around the protective influence of Vitamin A against the damaging immune responses that lead to inflammatory bowel disease. The research led by Professor of ...

Study on inflammatory bowel disease in First Nations people adds to understanding of disease

April 10, 2012
Inflammatory bowel disease is relatively rare in Canadian First Nations people but common in white people, possibly due to different genetic variants, according to a new study in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) ...

Reproductive disorder linked to increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease

December 20, 2011
Women with endometriosis are up to twice as likely to develop inflammatory bowel disease as those without this reproductive disorder, suggests a large study published online in Gut.

Team explores the effects of exercise on ulcerative colitis

July 2, 2013
Aerobic exercise can lessen – or worsen – the symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis, depending on the circumstances under which the exercise is undertaken, researchers report.

Recommended for you

MRSA emerged years before methicillin was even discovered

July 19, 2017
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) emerged long before the introduction of the antibiotic methicillin into clinical practice, according to a study published in the open access journal Genome Biology. It was ...

New test distinguishes Zika from similar viral infections

July 18, 2017
A new test is the best-to-date in differentiating Zika virus infections from infections caused by similar viruses. The antibody-based assay, developed by researchers at UC Berkeley and Humabs BioMed, a private biotechnology ...

'Superbugs' study reveals complex picture of E. coli bloodstream infections

July 18, 2017
The first large-scale genetic study of Escherichia coli (E. coli) cultured from patients with bloodstream infections in England showed that drug resistant 'superbugs' are not always out-competing other strains. Research by ...

Ebola virus can persist in monkeys that survived disease, even after symptoms disappear

July 17, 2017
Ebola virus infection can be detected in rhesus monkeys that survive the disease and no longer show symptoms, according to research published by Army scientists in today's online edition of the journal Nature Microbiology. ...

Mountain gorillas have herpes virus similar to that found in humans

July 13, 2017
Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have detected a herpes virus in wild mountain gorillas that is very similar to the Epstein-Barr virus in humans, according to a study published today in the journal Scientific ...

Vaccines protect fetuses from Zika infection, mouse study shows

July 13, 2017
Zika virus causes a mild, flu-like illness in most people, but to pregnant women the dangers are potentially much worse. The virus can reduce fetal growth, cause microcephaly, an abnormally small head associated with brain ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.