IBD: Nature and Cause

You live with, and suffer from, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) but aren’t quite sure what causes it. And you’re not alone. The culprits of this digestive tract illness are complex, resulting in those unpleasant symptoms of chronic inflammation and pain. Discover the nature and cause of your condition to help you remain on the road to remission.


IBD overview

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to different long-term conditions that involve inflammation of the digestive tract. The two main types are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Each has different natures and causes. But both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease typically include diarrhea, rectal bleeding, pain, and weight loss. Ulcerative colitis involves inflammation and ulcers along the intestinal lining of the large intestine and rectum. Crohn’s is characterized by inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract as well as deeper layers of it.


Potential causes

The exact cause of inflammatory bowel disease is still unknown. It’s caused by a combination of genetic makeup, environmental exposure, and the health of your gut microbiota, resulting in an overactive immune system which attacks within.



One of the main clinically recognized causes is trouble with the immune system. Your immune system is designed to fend off foreign invaders such as viruses or bacteria. But autoimmune conditions such as IBD result in abnormally functioning immune systems. As a result, your immune system attacks cells in your digestive tract. Researchers think that bacteria in the digestive tract can mistakenly trigger the immune system, then the immune response leads to damaged cells, inflammation, and typical symptoms of IBD.


Gut microbiota

The impact of gut microbiota on IBD has gained a lot of attention in the last decade. That’s because as research suggests, the microbiota is an integral part of the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis signals between the brain and the gut. In fact, gut microbial alteration, or when there are more “bad” bugs than “good”, may be associated with gastrointestinal disorders such as IBD.


Want to boost your healthy bacteria? Check out this article.



It was previously thought that diet was a culprit, but now it’s known that although these may aggravate IBD, they aren’t the cause. However, hypotheses have suggested that diet can alter the microbiome which then may lead to IBD. Another theory is that dietary allergies can trigger an immune response. But this is also not yet proven.

Observational studies have shown associations between diet patterns and the risk of diagnosis. These studies display that increased consumption of meat and animal products may up the risk of symptoms, whereas more fruits and vegetables are typically associated with a lower incidence of the diseases.



In the past, it was widely believed that there was a psychological aspect to IBD. Previous research suggests that psychological issues played a role in the development of the disease. That’s because, with IBD, there is damage to the intestinal tract, so a physical cause versus a mental influence.


However, most chronic diseases can be stressful on the body and mind. More stress can make the condition feel worse. If there is pain and inability to achieve desired life activities, there can be depression or anger. These feelings may increase bothersome IBD symptoms, creating a negative cycle.


Recent research also indicates that stress acts as a relapsing factor for IBD. It can also directly influence the digestive system, making symptoms worse. In patients with anxiety or depression, the inflammatory markers are also higher, potentially causing more damage and pain. There has been an increasing incidence of anxiety and depression in both children and adults with IBD. Therefore, healing mental health can be a valuable approach to enhancing and managing the treatment of IBD.


Sleep disorders

Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on many diseases. When it comes to IBD, several studies suggest the associations between sleep, immune function, and inflammation. The relationship between sleep disturbances and inflammatory conditions is complex and not quite understood. But lack of sleep can increase inflammation in the body.


Several studies have also found that patients with both inactive and active IBD have reported sleep issues. More research is needed to link each type of sleep disturbance to different aspects of IBD but improving sleep quality may provide an opportunity to improve disease outcomes.


Want to improve your sleep? Check out: 15 Tips for How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep with IBD


Other factors

Some science also suggests other factors may increase the chance of developing IBD. For example, smoking may double the chance of developing Crohn’s disease. While antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, and birth control pills may increase the chance of developing it. Other causes for colitis include infections such as food poisoning from E. coli and Salmonella, and poor blood supply.


Road to remission

Now you know a bit more about the ins and outs of your digestive condition, but how do you put these into practice? Nori Health is an evidence-based digital therapy for people living with IBD. This 6-week coaching program takes into consideration and coaches you through the possible causes of your condition with actionable tips. Register for the Nori Health program to be on the road towards remission.



This article has been written by Lisa Booth, registered dietitian and nutritionist, and co-founder of Nori Health. Content is based on her professional knowledge and our collection of 100+ scientific research study papers.