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Implicit Location : Canada
The irritating truth about bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease patient Mark Rievaj, left, is pictured with Dr Gil Kaplan at Alberta Health Sciences Centre Wednesday.
CALGARY - Elite speedskater Mark Rievaj had the Olympics in his sights 10 years ago when he received a diagnosis that sent him to the sidelines.
The young man from Calgary was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, one of a group of inflammatory bowel ailments on the rise in Canada.
The symptoms forced Rievaj to hang up his skates. Today, he's also plagued by arthritis and mobility issues in his knees due to the disease, which has no cure.
It's a plight that University of Calgary faculty of medicine gastrointestinal specialist Dr. Gil Kaplan is studying closely.
Kaplan, an Alberta Innovates health investigator, was part of a team that published a study this month in the journal Gastroenterology exploring the link between genetics, environmental factors such as diet and pollution, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The researchers combed through thousands of international research reports from the past 50 years. They found that not only are cases of the disease on the rise, Canada has one of the highest rates in the world.
The disease is more predominant in industrialized nations, including the United States and United Kingdom, and rates are now climbing in India and China, Kaplan said.
"The fascinating part about that is it starts to give us some clues about the environmental risk factors that might increase the risk of developing these diseases," he said.
Genetics can make a person more susceptible to the ailment, but other factors - including a fast-food diet and increasingly sterile environments - could be behind the growing number of patients, said Kaplan.
Today's era of antibacterial wipes and overall improved attention to cleanliness have helped eradicate some infectious diseases, but may also mean immune systems aren't primed the same way they were decades ago, Kaplan explained.
Diets in industrialized nations include more refined sugars and processed foods, and less vegetables and fibre - another risk factor for IBD.
Kaplan said he hopes the research will build a solid foundation for developing better ways to treat the disease.
It's a goal Rievaj hopes is realized in his lifetime.
Rievaj was part of a speedskating group aiming to make the national team and try out for the Olympics when he was diagnosed.
He tried to resume training, but eventually had to give up the sport to try to control symptoms of the disease, which most often strikes young adults.
"A lot of it is just crossing your fingers hoping you get the least of them or as little as possible," said Rievaj, 32.