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Cleaner communities more bowel problems: Researcher 0

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Cleaner communities more bowel problems: Researcher 0

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) sufferer Mark Rievaj, left, and researcher Dr. Gil Kaplan spoke out Wednesday about study findings showing the disease is on the rise around the world. Kaplan's efforts have helped lay the groundwork for further investigation into the disease. (Jenna McMurray/QMI Agency)

Cleaner societies may be contributing the a global increase in cases of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a local researcher says.

Dr. Gil Kaplan, an Alberta-Innovates Health Solutions population health investigator, said his team’s study into IBD shows immune systems may be overprotected.

“There’s a condition or theory called the hygiene hypothesis that states that as we become more industrialized, we actually have more sterile societies, more sterile environments,” said Kaplan, a gastro-intestinal specialist at the University of Calgary’s medical faculty.

“We don’t get exposed to the same bacteria that we would have hundreds of years ago and that doesn’t prime out the immune system properly, so later on in life, those who have a genetic susceptibility of developing the disease may then develop the disease.”

The study found IBD is on the rise, especially in industrialized countries -- with Canada among the leaders -- but also in developing-turned-industrialized nations such as China and India.

Also suspected to be contributing to the increase in cases are poor eating habits, including less consumption of fibre and vegetables and increased fat intake.

Each year, between 800 and 1,000 Albertans are diagnosed with the disease, which often includes symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhea and bleeding.

It’s been about a decade since Mark Rievaj was told he had IBD.

A speed skater at the national level, Rievaj wasn’t able to keep up with his sport following the diagnosis.

He hopes Kaplan’s team can continue to shed light on the incurable condition.

“There’s always so much research being done by the pharmaceuticals, trying to throw more drugs at it and make more money from it, but to actually have research focused on the cause of it, and not just trying to mask the symptoms, I think is productive,” he said.

Kaplan said work must continue, as the disease is believed to cost the Canadian health care system about $700 million every year.

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