Ready meals and 'germ phobia' may be linked to bowel disease
The number of Irish children suffering from life-changing bowel disease has increased threefold in recent years, which experts believe could be linked to ready meals and hyper hygiene.
As gastroenterologists around the globe mark World Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Day today, Trinity College Professor Colm O'Morain said there was growing evidence that processed food, over-reliance on antibiotics and the lack of exposure to germs and bacteria could be factors triggering Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Both chronic bowel diseases have no known cure or cause although environmental factors and genetics are suspected.
But what is known is that the number of Irish children between the ages of 10 and 16 who have been diagnosed with IBD has sky-rocketed in the past 15 years, according to Prof O'Morain.
They now make up a significant number of approximately 40,000 people in Ireland suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
But our Western lifestyle - including a diet consisting of ready meals and prepared food - and hyper hygiene were suspected triggers, he said.
The body's immune response could be compromised by lack of exposure to germs, which could explain why the incidences of IBD in Western countries are much higher than in developing countries, he added.
Both diseases involve chronic inflammation of the intestine.
However, Crohn's disease can affect the entire digestive system from the mouth to the rectum, whereas colitis affects the colon and rectum.
Although both diseases can occur at any time, both were more likely to affect those people under the age of 30, with symptoms typically beginning in adolescence, Prof O'Morain said.
The Irish Society for Colitis & Crohn's disease (a patient support group) has launched an awareness campaign called #DoubleUp which is calling on the government, through an online petition, to double the number of specialist IBD numbers in Ireland - bringing the number from 14 to 28 nurses in line with IBD treatment recommendations and best practice across other European countries like the UK.