Canada has one of the highest prevalence rates of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the world, with more than 300,000 people affected and 35,000 of those being Albertans, according to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.
“By 2030, one per cent of Canadians, including Albertans, will be living with the disease,” says Kate Lee, vice president of research and patient programs with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.
Lee explains that IBDs are progressive autoimmune diseases that affect an individual’s gastrointestinal tract, causing inflammation of the gut and leading to pain and scarring.
“It’s very unpredictable bowel movements,” said Lee. “These are grown-ups who, as adults, are unable to control and predict when they will have the bowel movements, so it’s something that leads to a lot of anxiety and stress, especially when they leave their homes.”
In most cases, people diagnosed with the disease are between the ages of 20 and 30.
“So really the prime of their lives when they’re becoming independent,” said Lee. “Then they’re having to deal with this devastating disease.”
Lee says scientists have found that the industrialization of a nation contributes to growing case numbers.
Research on these diseases has led scientists to discover how important the gut microbiome is to our health.
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Dr. Chelsea Matisz has researched gut health at the University of Lethbridge for five years. She is one of three women recently recognized by The Royal Society of Canada for the Alice Wilson award for her work on studying how gut health affects the brain and mental health using mice models.
“People think, well, of course, you’re anxious or depressed because you have these chronic illnesses, but it’s actually not just the psychological burden of disease,” Matisz said. “But rather changes in your brain resulting from the gut inflammation that can drive these mood disorders.”
Matisz’s research extends to what changes happen in the brain after short-term gut inflammation and potentially using psilocybin, cannabinoids or vitamin d to help anxiety and depression associated with chronic gut inflammation.
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Jody Ginther was diagnosed with Crohn’s and Colitis in 1998. He says the initial impact on his life was significant, only having a matter of minutes to find and use the washroom.
“Trying to stop my vehicle and hope that I could get to a facility that had a washroom,” said Ginther. “It was extremely difficult.”
Ginther said his flare-ups got so bad that he had to get his large intestine surgically removed.
Ginther says having research like this done in southern Alberta is impressive, and he’s hopeful her work will get us closer to a cure.