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Crohn's Disease Responds to Vitamin D Supplements


Good news for Crohn’s disease sufferers: a new study has found that vitamin D is effective against symptoms of this inflammatory bowel disease. This discovery by researchers at McGill University in Montreal is especially exciting because it involves a non-drug treatment for this condition and is one that can be used by most patients and individuals at risk for the disease.

This is the first time a study has shown that a vitamin D deficiency can contribute to Crohn’s disease and that the supplement can fight its effects. This is important news for the estimated 500,000 people in the United States who have the disease and for people in their families. Vitamin D deficiency is very common among people of all ages.

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Crohn’s disease and colitis (the other main type of inflammatory bowel disease) tends to run in families, and about 20 to 25 percent of people with Crohn’s have a close relative with the disease. If the relative is a sibling, the risk is 30 times greater. Men and women are equally affected by the disease, and it may occur in people of any age, although it is most common in those between 15 and 35.

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Despite much research, investigators have not known what causes Crohn’s disease, although studies indicate that the inflammation characteristic of the disease involves genetics, the immune system, and environmental factors. Researchers have speculated that once a person with Crohn’s disease has his or her immune system stimulated in some manner, it does not know how to turn off properly, and the inflammation continues and damages the intestinal tract.

The new finding by scientists at McGill University and the University of Montreal shows a role for vitamin D in the disease. Specifically, the vitamin has a direct impact on two genes that have been linked to Crohn’s disease, beta-defensin and NOD2. Vitamin D directly impacts the beta defensin 2 gene, which then encodes a specific peptide, and the NOD2 gene that lets cells know that invading microbes are present. If NOD2 is deficient or defective, it cannot fight the invaders in the intestinal tract. If patients have an adequate amount of vitamin D, this breakdown may be prevented and inflammation may be reduced.

The study’s authors expressed enthusiasm over their finding that links vitamin D with Crohn’s disease and that there is now a new treatment for people who have this and other inflammatory bowel diseases. Vitamin D supplements are an easy way for people to get the needed vitamin, especially those who live in countries that receive inadequate sunlight. Exposure to sunlight is the natural avenue for the body to make its own vitamin D.

Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America
McGill University news release, Jan. 27, 2010