Study finds environmental factors, not just genetics, influence bowel disease

The survey of inflammatory bowel disorders among Jewish Ethiopian immigrants living in Israel.

August 25, 2015 18:29
2 minute read.
Stomach pains

Stomach pains are based on environmental factors, not just genetics, new study proposes. . (photo credit: INGIMAGE)


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Inflammatory bowel diseases that affect some 40,000 Israelis result not only from genetics – as has been presumed for many years – but also from environmental influences, according to research carried out at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and published in the IBD Journal.

The authors looked at the prevalence of IBD among Ethiopian immigrants to determine whether there are environmental influences, as this class of disorders is uncommon in the East African country.

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So far, 100 IBD patients who arrived from Ethiopia have been diagnosed out of a total of 116,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin living here.

Dr. Ariella Sheetrit, a senior Shaare Zedek gastroenterologist who runs the clinic that treats IBD among mothers, carried out her research along with researchers from a number of other Israeli hospitals.

It was the first survey of inflammatory bowel disorders among Ethiopian Israels.

The researchers reached the conclusion over two years that IBD results not only from genetic causes but also environmental ones. They also discovered 32 additional Ethiopian immigrants with the disease.

The team studied physiological indicators, the extent of the disease, their lifestyles, medications they take and family history, and determined how long after their arrival in Israel their symptoms appeared.


They compared the data with that from a control group of Jews of Ashkenazi origin.

They found that not a single patient who came from Ethiopia had a history of IBD in the family compared to such a connection in 32 percent of the Ashkenazi patients.

There were also fewer side effects outside the intestines, and the disease did not appear until the Ethiopian immigrants had been living here for eight to 21 years. The researchers concluded that environmental influences are thus involved.

“We are trying to determine these factors. They may be connected to the change in the standard of living here and their adoption of Western ways of life, including diet, taking antibiotics or getting certain vaccinations that could have a negative influence on them,” causing IBD and other autoimmune diseases to appear, Sheetrit suggested.

The Shaare Zedek team is expanding its research to take blood samples from patients of Ethiopian origin to characterize the genomes, composition of bacteria in the intestines and other physiological factors in patients compared to two control groups of healthy Israelis closely related to the immigrants and of healthy Ethiopian Jews who only now came on aliya and live in absorption centers.

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