Environmental Triggers and IBD Symptoms
Last updated: March 2022
While city life offers definite cultural and social benefits, a more rural environment has helped moderate my IBD symptoms. Coincidence? Perhaps. All I can say is I’ve had way less digestive issues since I moved from New York City to a small town in Alabama.
Interestingly enough, there is some evidence to support the idea that a rural environment improves health outcomes. I’ve identified 5 factors that might have made my health worse in the city. While we all have different triggers, these 5 factors could very well impact you, too. My goal here is to look into these factors and explain how they could potentially impact my Crohn’s disease.
Urban vs. rural: possible environmental factors?
Densely packed cities have way more noise pollution: sirens blaring, construction cranes, rowdy neighbors. Although there are steps that can reduce noise pollution such as getting soundproof windows or living on a top floor, it is very difficult to avoid the deleterious effects of intrusive noise. Deleterious effects? Possibly! We tend to think of noise pollution as a minor inconvenience, but as an article in the Australian Academy of Science points out, noise pollution has the potential to magnify stress levels considerably and impede sleep.1
These and other factors can be very troubling when you have IBD. The same article went on to point out that the World Health Organization in a 2011 study came to a similar conclusion, declaring that "there is overwhelming evidence that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population." Noise pollution was even ranked second among environmental health threats.2
In bigger cities, the air tends to be more polluted. Some causes include heavy traffic, industrial production, car exhaust, and acid rain. In some cities, smog is another troubling issue. What does this all have to do with Crohn's?
What you inhale could potentially magnify gut inflammation. A BBC article titled "How Dirty Air Could Be Affecting Our Gut Health" reached a similar conclusion, arguing: "It’s thought that air pollution plays a part in the development of IBD by changing the gut microbiome, which causes an immune response and inflammation."3
The article went on to describe that rates of IBD were higher in industrialized nations and that pollution might be making gastrointestinal disease outcomes worse. While the jury is still out on this, if we’re not feeling well it might be worth it to follow that age-old wisdom of getting fresh air.
Another potential health issue with living in the city is less direct sunlight. Some factors that might contribute to this include tall buildings blocking the sun, more time spent indoors, and smog. Getting sun is critical for maintaining optimal vitamin D levels, a critical nutrient that may help keep gastrointestinal inflammation in check.4
There are often more environmental toxins in an urban area. Contaminants such as mercury, lead, asbestos, petrochemicals, and arsenic can be more common in cities. Here in the U.S., the dangers of contaminants were highlighted a few years ago with the Flint water crisis. There are a number of other toxins found in our air and water that could potentially exacerbate gastrointestinal disease. For a review of some of the environmental risk factors worth considering, please read: "Environmental Risk Factors for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: Evidence based Literature Review" from the World Journal of Gastroenterology.5
Living in a tiny apartment in a cramped city can feel claustrophobic. This is often necessary in a crowded metropolis, though, since costs are higher. By comparison, living in a larger space in a rural area often provides more freedom. Speaking personally here, not feeling so confined helps me relax. I also feel less trapped psychologically, which can be difficult when ill. Interestingly enough, a World Health Organization (WHO) report suggested open spaces in cities, such as parks and residential greenery, might promote physical and mental health.6
Environmental factors and IBD
In conclusion, there are many possible health benefits to living in a rural environment. Those with IBD living in cities might want to consider relocating. If not possible, they should try to manage the deleterious effects of environmental triggers. For example, an urban dweller might consider using an air purifier to mitigate the effects of air pollution, try to get soundproof windows to reduce noise pollution, limit exposure to toxins, and make every effort to regularly obtain direct sunlight.
Interestingly enough, for those still skeptical, a Canadian study seemed to support the notion that there may be digestive health benefits to living in a rural environment. It found that those living in rural households are less likely than those living in urban households to be diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease.7
Have you noticed you felt different depending on where you live? How about when on vacation? Would you ever consider relocating? Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment below.
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