When I tell people about the increased likelihood of IBD amongst those with Ashekanzi decent, many Christians tell me a story about how they believe their family lineage does include some Ashkenazi/Jewish ancestry.
According to The Jewish News of Northern California Jennifer who grew up Catholic in Utah, learned from a home DNA test that she was 50 percent Ashkenazi Jewish. Does this mean she is more susceptible to Inflammatory Bowel Disease? Let’s find out.
You can learn about your specific ancestry through 23&me that they claim is highly precise. The test is non-invasive, you simply spit into a tube. 23&me is partnered with the multinational pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which allows them to hopefully create better drugs in the future. If you’re worried about security and privacy consider anonymizing your information.
When most humans think of a genetic Jewish disorder they think of Tay-Sachs disease, which is is very rare in the general population. According to the National Institute of Health, the same mutations responsible for Tay-Sachs are also more common in certain French-Canadian communities of Quebec, the Old Order Amish community in Pennsylvania, and the Cajun population of Louisiana.
However, a disease that affects significantly more humans with Ashkenazi heritage is Crohn’s Disease.
Ashkenazi Jews are up to seven times more likely than other populations to develop Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
According to the CCFI(The Israel Foundation For Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis), the number of IBD patients in Israel have doubled in the past 14 years. As of 2019, the number was estimated to be 46,074 according to a survey conducted by Prof. Dan Turner and researcher Mira Stolman, from the Crohn’s and Colitis Center at Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
There are more than 10 Million Ashkenazi Jews around the world, including 2.8M in Israel alone – according to Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“Ashkenaz” in Hebrew refers to Germany, and Ashkenazi Jews are those who originated in Eastern Europe.
Approximately 80% of modern Jews have Ashkenazi ancestry, according to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
One study found that all of the Ashkenazi Jews alive today can trace their roots to a group of about 330 people who lived 600 to 800 years ago. The same study showed that two-fifths of Ashkenazi Jews descended from four women.
Could this explain why Ashkenazi Jews are significantly more likely to develop IBD?
In the largest study to date, Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers compared almost 2,000 Ashkenazi Jews with Crohn’s disease to another 4,500 Ashkenazi Jews without the disease. “This is the first study to discover the unique risk factors of Crohn’s disease in the Ashkenazi Jewish population,” study leader Professor Inga Peter Ph.D. an associate professor of genetics and genomic sciences, said in a Mount Sinai news release.
According to a Public Library of Science genetics study, five additional genetic variants were discovered, bringing the total to 71 genetic variants that increase the risk of Crohn’s disease in individuals of European ancestry.
Now, a little Genetics 101
What are Genes?
Genes are the fundamental units of heredity—they provide the instruction for a particular trait such as hair or eye color. Genes are made up of a chemical called deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Each gene contains the information needed for making a specific protein, and each protein has a particular function in the body, such as manufacturing enzymes for biochemical processes.
What are Chromosomes?
Chromosomes are the structures in which genes are packaged. Chromosomes come in pairs, and there can be hundreds and even thousands of genes on one chromosome. Every cell has a total of 46 chromosomes, each with 23 pairs. Half of your chromosomes come from your mother and other half from your father. The first 22 pairs are referred to as autosomes because they are the same between males and females, but the 23rd and final pair are called sex chromosomes because these determine our biological sex. Males have an X and a Y chromosome while females have two X chromosomes.
The findings are from a multicenter study and were reported by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, the health and science editor at the Jerusalem Post. Previous studies had identified 71 genetic variants of Crohn’s disease risk in people, especially Jews of central and eastern European ancestry. Dr. Peter Ph.D. led the international research team to search for unique genetic risk factors in Ashkenazi Jews. Her team conducted a two-step genome-wide association study comparing 1,878 Ashkenazi Jews with Crohn’s disease to 4,469 Ashkenazi Jews without the disease, using DNA samples to evaluate their genetic make-up. The research team found 12 of the known risk variants but also discovered five new genetic risk regions on chromosomes (5q21.1, 2p15, 8q21.11, 10q26.3 and 11q12.1).
Other studies have suggested that one or more genes on chromosome 5q21 are responsible for the inheritance of familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Gardner’s syndrome (GS), and contribute to tumor development in patients with noninherited forms of colorectal cancer. Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) is an inherited disorder characterized by cancer of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. Gardner syndrome is a form of familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) that is characterized by multiple colorectal polyps and various types of tumors , both benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous). People affected by Gardner syndrome have a high risk of developing colorectal cancer at an early age.
And it’s not just Crohn’s Disease. According to a 2009 study at the University at Birmingham United Kingdom, Ulcerative Colitis is three to five times more common in Jews than in non-Jews living in Western Countries.
Another genetic mutation that is more prevalent in those with IBD is MTHFR(C677T ). MTHFR is an abbreviation for a genetic mutation that affects 30-50% of the population. Researchers have identified a possible MTHFR connection in over 650 additional conditions in addition to IBD. You can learn if you have the MTHFR mutation from the 23&me health report.
These discoveries further exemplify the importance of lifestyle and dietary habits. Both are proven to decrease the risk of a Crohn’s Disease diagnosis and would likely decrease the chances of FAP and GS. For those that are diagnosed or experience symptoms, lifestyle and dietary habits have been shown to reverse symptoms.
Some studies have shown an increased risk of Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis running in the family of those with IBD. What the studies have yet to look at is the lifestyle and food choices of these families. One study found that the risk of developing IBD in first-degree relatives is increased four to eight times, and higher amongst Jews. Generally speaking, Jewish food is often not microbiome friendly nor the healthiest, however with the proper food and ingredient choices, Jewish food can be healthy, microbiome restorative, and nourishing, while also delicious. Outside of the Jewish population, a large Korean study spanning 15 years of 21 Million study subjects, 63,565 of which had IBD found up to a 22 fold increase in Crohn’s and 10x for Ulcerative Colitis. Again, traditional Korean food is often not microbiome friendly or generally healthy, however with the proper choices, it can be made very healthy and delicious, and what some call “IBD Friendly”. As we often learn these habits from our parents and other loved ones, the issue isn’t likely simply genetic, but habitually learned. We believe better education could lower these numbers significantly.
One theory that needs more research is known as familial or ancestral trauma. Some believe that the first sound we hear in the womb is our mother’s heartbeat. Perhaps the first sound to vibrate our newly developed hearing apparatus is the pulse of our mother’s blood through her veins and arteries. Then we vibrate that primordial rhythm even before we have ears to hear. Before we are conceived, we existed in part as an egg in our mother’s ovary.
All the eggs a woman will ever carry form in her ovaries while she is a four-month-old fetus in the womb of her mother.
This means that our cellular life as an egg begins in the womb of our grandmother. Each of us spent five months in our grandmother’s womb and she in turn formed the womb of her grandmother. We vibrate to the rhythms of our mother’s blood before she herself is born. And this pulse is the thread of blood that runs all the way back through grandmothers to the first mother. We all share the blood of the first mother. We are truly children of one blood.
This does need more research, but what if “Womb Healing” and/or “Ancestral Healing could heal the generational trauma Ashekanzi’s have been subjected to?
There is some evidence that ancestral trauma is passed down through generations.
Studies have been done on mothers who were holocaust survivors with PTSD, and pregnant women who were in the World Trade Center during 9/11.
They found that the children of these mothers “had a significantly higher rate of developing serious psychological problems after traumatic experiences” such as assault and rape.
This shows some evidence of how ancestral trauma is passed down.
Genes Load The Gun – Diet and Lifestyle Pull The Trigger
We spent hundreds of hours researching the best methods to Integratively and holistically help Crohn’s Disease. These strategies and techniques have helped some reverse symptoms, and others avoid surgery. Some believe they are cured, and now live a life free from dis-ease. We published these strategies, techniques, health journeys, and stories in The Crohn’s And Colitis Summit and One Great Gut Collection, both created and hosted by our founder Joel Sprechman. The practitioners and service providers listed in the One Great Gut Network are another resource to help you Thrive with Crohn’s Disease, while also helping others with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. We hope these resources help you or your loved ones.
So that we can continue to fulfill our commitment and mission, please consider donating today. Your contribution will help those with IBD, Crohn’s, and Colitis Thrive. In Judaism, giving to a charitable organization is known as tzedakah. Please consider this mitzvah, so that we can help other’s Thrive with Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Interesting note: Rabbi Zusche Greenberg says that Nine out of ten Jews will tell you that mitzvah means doing a good deed. In reality, there is much more to the word. The simple translation of mitzvah is commandment, but some teachings find a deeper meaning in the word. Mitzvah comes from the root word tzavta, which means connection. It’s almost as if each mitzvah is a phone number with a direct dial to G‑d. So your donation is a direct connection to God, for you, for us, and most importantly for those we serve and help.
We’ve got work to do, and we’ve got chutzpah, along with gluten-free bagel and lox and black and white cookies.
Please join and help us. Be a modern-day Maccabee. Donate today to allow us to fight the good fight.
“All Jews are responsible for each other. We are like a ship where a hole has been ruptured in one room. It cannot be said that one room has been ruptured.; the entire ship is ruptured.” (Midrash, Tana Devei Eliyahu Rabah)
- PLOS Genetic – A Genome-Wide Scan of Ashkenazi Jewish Crohn’s Disease Suggests Novel Susceptibility Loci
- Genetics of homocysteine metabolism and associated disorders: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3078648/pdf/nihms-259545.pdf
- Increased prevalence of methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase C677T variant in patients with inflammatory bowel disease, and its clinical implications: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1727640/
- Yale University: The genetics of Crohn’s disease in the Ashkenazi Jewish population
- U.S. National Library Of Medicine Genetics Home Reference Tay-Sachs disease
- Science – Mutations of chromosome 5q21 genes in FAP and colorectal cancer patients
- Gastroenterology – Geographic origins of Jewish patients with inflammatory bowel disease
- Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases – Official Journal of the Romanian Societies of Gastroenterology – Jews and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases Ahmed M. El-Tawil Department of Surgery, University Hospital of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom (Direct PDF)
- The Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics – Genetics 101
- Forward – Could Kashrut be partly to blame for Crohn’s Disease
- Gene tests show that two fifths of Ashkenazi Jews are descended from four women
- Nature Communications – Sequencing an Ashkenazi reference panel supports population-targeted personal genomics and illuminates Jewish and European origins
- Los Angeles Times – DNA ties Ashkenazi Jews to group of just 330 people from Middle Ages
- A mitzvah is not just a good deed – Rabbi Zushe Greenberg
- Familial and ethnic risk in inflammatory bowel disease
- Familial Risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease – A Population-based Cohort study in South Korea
- How Trauma And Resilience Cross Generations – Rachel Yehuda, PhD – School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
- Ynet Health: Israeli Research