Physicians and researchers are still trying to unravel the mystery of what causes Crohn’s disease. They have identified numerous genetic variations linked to Crohn’s, and believe certain lifestyle factors also contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing Crohn’s.

You can’t change your genetic makeup, however, there are steps you can take to lessen your risk of developing this disease.

Don’t smoke. Of course, that’s good advice for everyone. However, smokers are more likely to develop Crohn’s, and the course of the disease is more aggressive in people who smoke.

Eat your veggies. It’s true: you are what you eat. Studies show that a diet high in vegetables, fruits, fish, and dietary fiber provides significant protection against Crohn’s and other diseases. On the other hand, diets high in fatty acids (think fried food, for example), or that don’t include enough essential nutrients, put you at higher risk for developing Crohn’s.

Manage stress. You’ve heard the saying that you can’t always control what happens to you, only how you react to it. Learning to effectively manage stress may provide protection from disease. Although the data linking stress and incidence of disease is inconclusive, many patients and families believe there is a strong connection, and there are studies that show a possible risk increase for developing inflammatory diseases with high levels of chronic stress. Even if managing stress doesn’t prevent Crohn’s disease, it will improve your overall quality of life.

Avoid Accutane. Accutane is a powerful drug commonly used in treating persistent acne. Although a cause and effect relationship has not been proven, studies do suggest the development of inflammatory bowel diseases in people taking Accutane.

Understand Your Environment. Researchers believe environmental factors related to living in urban areas, such as high accessibility to high-fat, fast food, may play a role in Crohn’s disease. Of course, moving is not a very practical alternative for most people. However, by understanding your environmental risk factors, you can make wiser lifestyle decisions—without actually leaving home.

Until experts learn how to prevent Crohn’s disease, your best course of action is to understand your risks, pursue a healthy lifestyle, and seek timely medical attention if you experience symptoms that may indicate Crohn’s disease.