Can food cause IBD?

As IBD affects the digestive system, many people naturally wonder if there is a possible link between diet and IBD. A considerable amount of research has been undertaken to look for a connection, and scientists have investigated a wide range of food and nutrients to see if they play a role in the development of the disease.

Researchers now believe that IBD is caused by a combination of factors: the genes a person has inherited, alongside an abnormal reaction of the immune system (the body’s protection system against harmful substances) to certain bacteria in the intestines, probably triggered by something in the environment.

Viruses, bacteria, smoking and stress, as well as diet, have all been suggested as possible environmental triggers for IBD, but there is no definite evidence that any one of these is the cause of IBD.

Currently, there is no clear evidence that any particular food or food additive directly causes IBD.

However, some researchers think that there may be some sort of link between diet and IBD. One suggested link is with a diet high in fats and sugars and low in fruit and vegetables. Researchers have noted that in the past, IBD rates have been lower in non-Western countries such as Japan than in Western Europe and North America. However, over the past few decades, the number of people with IBD in Japan has been rapidly increasing. As many Japanese people now eat a more Westernised diet (a diet typically high in fats and sugars), the suggestion is that it could be this change in diet which has led to the increase in IBD.

There have been other research studies which have come to similar conclusions about diets high in sweets, cakes and/or red meat. Researchers have also found a possible link between UC and some types of fat, such as trans-unsaturated fats like lineolic acid (found in oils such as corn and sunflower oil). Lack of dietary fibre may also play a role - another study found that women whose diets contained a lot of fruit were less likely to develop Crohn’s Disease, but not UC.

Nevertheless, the overall picture is still not clear - some research findings contradict each other, and scientists continue to debate exactly whether and how food may play a part in causing IBD.