Ulcerative Colitis is an Inflammatory Bowel Disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in the large intestine. While medical professionals are not sure of the exact cause of Ulcerative Colitis, genetics is believed to play a role in disease onset and development.
One of the most significant risk factors for Ulcerative Colitis is family history. Scientists believe that individuals inherit genes that put them at risk for Ulcerative Colitis. At some point in life, environmental factors trigger the immune systems to attack the large intestine and the disease sets in.
Researchers estimate that between 10 and 25 percent of people with Ulcerative Colitis have an immediate family member with IDB. It is also believed that if one parent of a child has IBD, the child has a two percent risk of also developing IBD at some point in life. If both parents have IBD the risk for the child increases. Ulcerative Colitis is also more prominent in individuals who have more distant relatives that suffer from Ulcerative Colitis. Research also indicates that in individuals with a family history of Ulcerative Colitis, the age of disease onset tends to be earlier.
More specifically, studies have been conducted on both identical and fraternal twins who have Ulcerative Colitis. If one twin has Ulcerative Colitis, their identical twin will also have Ulcerative Colitis about sixteen percent of the time, while their fraternal twin will have Ulcerative Colitis about four percent of the time.
Despite all these statistics, it is important to note that most individuals with Ulcerative Colitis do not have a family history of IBD.
Ethnicity may also play a role in the likelihood of developing Ulcerative Colitis. Ulcerative Colitis is more common in Caucasians and people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. The disease is less common in African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans. However, it seems that the ethnicity gap is closing.
Remember: all ethnicities are susceptible to Ulcerative Colitis.
When it comes to the genes that are associated with Ulcerative Colitis, there still is not enough known to pinpoint specific genes and the ways those genes affect the development of the disease. One study identified 71 genes that may be associated with IBD. Although many genes and genetic variations have been studied, more research is certainly needed to identify clearer connections between genes and Ulcerative Colitis.
Researchers believe that certain genes may alter the body’s immune response, which would play a role in people who develop Ulcerative Colitis. Ulcerative Colitis is classified as an auto-immune condition. If you have an auto-immune disease, your body’s immune system mistakes its own healthy tissues as foreign and attacks them.
In a healthy immune system, the body’s T cells defend the body from infection by identifying foreign substances that get inside the body. In an immune system with Ulcerative Colitis, some of the associated genes may cause the body’s T cells to attack normal, healthy bacteria in the gut. T cells may also have an over-response to pathogens in the colon, which may cause damage to the organ.
Other genes are thought to play a role in disrupting the protective barrier within the large intestine, which may also be associated with the onset of Ulcerative Colitis. These genes likely inhibit the body’s ability to produce the proteins that protect the intestinal epithelial lining. The epithelial lining forms a barrier to protect the cells of the epithelium from bacteria and toxins. If the barrier is damaged, the body will trigger an immune response to the area. This immune response can lead to chronic inflammation, which can lead to Ulcerative Colitis symptoms.
As mentioned previously, there are more than 70 genes thought to be associated with Ulcerative Colitis, each of which may have various genetic variations. Because so many genes may influence Ulcerative Colitis risk, genetic testing in unlikely to be highly effective in preventative measures. At this point, this is no specific genetic test available for Ulcerative Colitis.
Genetics are believed to play a significant role in the development of Ulcerative Colitis. However, other factors likely play a role in Ulcerative Colitis onset, including your overall immune system, microbiome, and your broader environmental setting. In the past, diet and stress were thought to be causes of Ulcerative Colitis, but now appear instead to be factors that can aggravate the condition after it develops.
What You Can Do
Genetics, among other factors, are linked to Ulcerative Colitis. If you or someone in your family are struggling with symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis our team can help. Managing your diet, improving your nutrition, and reducing your stress level may play a role in helping prevent or treat Ulcerative Colitis and OnPoint Nutrition is here to help you do so!
Kaitlyn Willwerth is a Registered Dietitian at OnPoint Nutrition. Kaitlyn's work focuses on providing individualized health and lifestyle coaching and, most importantly, support. She is a Certified LEAP Therapist and has also completed the Monash University 'Low FODMAP Diet for IBS' online training course for health professionals.