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How important is vitamin D for treating Crohn's disease and colitis?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Vitamin D could have an important role for IBD

If you suffer from Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis or other forms of IBD vitamin D could play a role in quelling inflammation, preserving bone health and boosting immunity.

Why might vitamin D be so important for IBD?

The vitamin that is actually a hormone is important for proper immune function and for optimal bone health. Crohn's and ulcerative colitis might lead to bone loss from a combination of factors that include steroid therapy, inability to absorb calcium or poor diet.

Levels that are below normal may even up the risk of developing inflammation and colitis in the first place.

Last year researchers reported findings from two separate investigations showing the link between low levels of vitamin D that they associated with higher rates of hospitalization and surgery related to inflammatory bowel disease.

Ashwin Ananthakrishnan, MD, from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston said in a press release: "Low plasma 25-hydroxy vitamin D was associated with an increased risk of surgery and hospitalization in inflammatory bowel disease, primarily Crohn's disease."

In animal studies, researchers found administering active forms of vitamin D reduces inflammation.

In their study, researchers also discovered just 40 percent of 3217 patients with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis had sufficient vitamin D, highlighting the importance of monitoring.

In a separate study the researchers noted getting adequate vitamin D levels with supplements also correlated with increased muscle strength and improved quality of life for people with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis - both of which are top reasons to know your status.

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How much vitamin D do you need?

The researchers said study participants reported boosting levels of vitamin D improved their bowel habits and ability to socialize at levels that were at least 75 nmol/L.

The study authors concluded healthcare providers should consider prescribing vitamin D supplements for anyone dealing with IBD. Participants with the lowest levels of the vitamin showed the most significant improvement, the investigators also noted.

If you are dealing with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, check with your doctor to ensure you are maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D that can be measured with a simple blood test.

Correlating with the findings was a 2012 study that showed IBD strikes fewer women in the Southern latitude. The authors speculated it may be from sun exposure that helps the body synthesize vitamin D into its circulating form. More studies are needed to understand how vitamin D could help treat IBD and there remains conflicting data about the benefits. If you are dealing with Crohn's or colitis vitamin D supplementation could be therapeutic for keeping your bones healthy, possibly reducing inflammation to control symptoms and potentially for boosting immune function.

Related: Crohn's disease responds vitamin D
How to know if you have low vitamin D

Medscape Medical News
"Less Inflammatory Bowel Disease Seen in Southern Latitudes"
January 11, 2012

Nutrition Journal 2013
"Dynamics of vitamin D in patients with mild or inactive inflammatory bowel disease and their families"

Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology (2013) 4, e33; doi:10.1038/ctg.2013.1
Published online 18 April 2013 "Therapeutic Effect of Vitamin D Supplementation in a Pilot Study of Crohn’s Patients"

"Bone Loss in IBD"

Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2013 Aug;19(9):1921-7. doi: 10.1097/MIB.0b013e3182902ad9.
"Normalization of plasma 25-hydroxy vitamin D is associated with reduced risk of surgery in Crohn's disease"