People, particularly for young children and adolescents, who live in rural areas are at decreased risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), according to a new study.
The findings showed that children, particularly those under the age of 10, experience a protective effect against IBD if they live in a rural household.
Lead author Eric Benchimol from CHEO Inflammatory Bowel Disease Centre, in Ottawa said, "This effect is particularly strong in children who are raised in a rural household in the first five years of life. These are important findings since our previous work shows that the number of very young children being diagnosed with IBD has jumped in the past 20 years."
"The findings also strengthen our understanding that environmental risk factors that predispose people to IBD may have a stronger effect in children than adults," he added.
IBD primarily includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, which are lifelong conditions that cause inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to chronic diarrhea, blood in the stool, abdominal pains and weight loss.
The study identified a total of 45,567 patients diagnosed with IBD; 6,662 of those patients diagnosed with IBD were living in rural residences and 38,905 were living in urban residences from 1999 to 2010.
The overall incidence of IBD was 30.72 per 1,00,000 person-years in the rural population compared with 33.16 per 100,000 in the urban population.
"The new study demonstrates the importance of early life exposure in altering the risk of IBD and that needs further study," Benchimol noted.
The researchers suggest that living in a rural or urban environment may change the intestinal microbiome due to different exposures early in life, resulting in decreased or increased risk.
The research appears in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.