What Causes IBD?

Jan 21, 2017 by


You can have me read this article to you instead of reading it yourself…

Or you can read it the old-fashioned way below…

We already talked about what IBD is and the different forms that it can take within the GI tract.  I’m going to continue providing the “Chelsey Take” on the basics of IBD because, let’s be honest, it’s a different twist from what you’ve found online thus far!

So What Causes IBD?

Well, that’s kind of a complicated question.  It seems to involve an undefined mix of environmental and genetic factors.  It is likely that a collision of the two can cause IBD to occur for some people.

For instance, you may be genetically predisposed to developing IBD, but that doesn’t mean that you will develop it at any point in your life.  However, you may experience a particular event that tips the body into that state of autoimmune inflammation that we discussed already.  This event could be anything, including severe mental and emotional stress, or a viral or bacterial infection in the GI tract.


We are constantly hearing about all of the genetic research and progress we have made since mapping the human genome.  Unfortunately, this is a classic case of “The more you know, the less you know.”  Once we mapped the genome, we realized how very clueless we were about almost all of it.  And it is not the clean, precise science that we might have hoped for.  There are a handful of situations for which we can say Gene A = Disease A.  The rest of the time?  Not so much.

More often, it takes a number of genes altogether to cause a disease.  Or it takes a number of genes plus an environmental trigger.  There are also some genes that are turned off in some people and on in others, and we are still learning the reasons for this.

All of that to say – we know there seems to be some type of genetic association with IBD.  15% of people with IBD have a first degree relative with the condition, and there is a 9% risk that a parent or sibling will develop it during their lifetime.  But we have a very poor understanding for the exact genes that are associated with this and why.


You may have heard some fuss about the fact that autoimmune diseases are on the rise.  This is true, and it is not limited to just IBD.  This includes other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.  In fact, immune-related conditions in general are increasing across the board.  For instance, allergy rates are skyrocketing, and allergies are tied directly to the function of the immune system.

There are quite a few theories as to why this is happening, and currently they are still in the theory stage.  However, it is generally agreed upon that this increase is due to environmental factors.  You’ll hear ideas that cover literally the entire possible range, anywhere from “It’s because we live in environments that are too clean or sterile” to “It’s because we’re being exposed to so many additives, toxins, and pollutants”.

Suffice to say, the environment is playing a role, we just don’t know yet what that role is.

Genes + Environment

So we come right back to where we started – it seems to be an interplay between a person’s genes and their environment.  That environment includes their general surroundings from childhood into adulthood, as well as one-time environmental triggers such as infections and severe stress or trauma.

Regardless of what the pinpointed reasons were, ultimately the ‘cause’ we are looking for is a sequence of events that tipped the scale for the body’s immune system and led to an attack on its own cells.



Interested in more information on IBD?

Next: What are the Symptoms of IBD?

Or refer back to the IBD Info Hub.


Trivia and Terminology:

Gene comes from a German term that originally meant “all race/kind/offspring” and is considered an ultimate unit of heredity

Epigenetics is a the ability for the body to turn certain genes off and on – something that we are only beginning to understand


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