Sunny weather lessens risk for inflammatory bowel disease

By Shayna Brouker • Published: April 24th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s enough of a problem living with the inconveniences of inflammatory bowel disease. Forms of this condition, like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both cause emergency trips to the bathroom, crippling cramps and loss of appetite. And if you live in a cold climate, you’ve got uncomfortable weather to deal with, too.

But a trip south might solve both problems. Interesting new research reaffirmed the idea that Southerners, who enjoy year-round sunshine, also benefit from a lower risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease. The results, published in the journal Gut, found that women living in southern regions had a 52 percent lower risk of getting Crohn’s disease by age 30 and a 38 percent lower risk of getting ulcerative colitis compared with their neighbors to the north.

These results held up even when researchers ruled out factors that would increase a person’s risk for I-B-D, like family history. One theory for southern states’ success is that people living there get more exposure to U-V light, and therefore more vitamin D, which helps control immunity and inflammation. Regional differences, environmental pollution and infections could also offer explanations.

But one fact pokes a hole in the findings — studies have shown that miners, who spend hours underground, also have lower rates of I-B-D. So the solution to treating these diseases is not as simple as swallowing some vitamin D pills.

But what you can do to get Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis under control is keep stress in check. Stress has been to known to cause flare-ups. Some antibiotics, oral contraceptives and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin and ibuprofen, can also cause irritation. Add a daily dose of probiotics, or “good” bacteria found in yogurt, to aid digestion. And if you’re lucky enough, move south for a dose of sunshine, too.