Many people living with irritable bowel syndrome are vitamin D deficient, according to a new study published in the BMJ Open Gastroenterology.

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Vitamin D may help ease the symptoms of IBS.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic and debilitating functional disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, affecting around 9-23% of people worldwide and 10-15% of people in the US.

Why and how the condition develops is something of a mystery, although dietary factors and stress are known to make symptoms worse.

Symptoms include a combination of diarrhea or constipation, bloating, urgency (the need to use a restroom in a hurry), white or yellow mucus in the stool and the sensation of incompletely passing stools.

These can cause embarrassment for patients, who may live with the condition undiagnosed. There is no cure.

The triggers and effects of IBS vary from one individual to another, making treatment difficult.

IBS accounts for 2.4-3.5 million physician visits each year in the US, up to 12% of total visits to primary care providers. The economic burden is also high, with costs related to medical care, loss of productivity and absenteeism from work estimated to be around $21 billion per year.

Researchers, led by Dr Bernard Corfe, from the University of Sheffield’s Molecular Gastroenterology Research Group, investigated the association between vitamin D levels and the severity of IBS symptoms – and particularly the extent to which IBS affects their quality of life.

Out of 51 patients with IBS, 82% exhibited insufficient vitamin D levels; moreover, the vitamin D status reflected the sufferer’s perceived quality of life, measured by the extent to which they reported the impact on IBS on life.

Dr. Corfe says that the data provide “a potential new insight into the condition and importantly a new way to try to manage it.”

He adds:

IBS is a poorly understood condition that impacts severely on the quality of life of sufferers. There is no single known cause and likewise no single known cure. Clinicians and patients currently have to work together and use trial and error to manage the condition, and this may take years with no guarantee of success.”

Researcher Vicky Grant has lived with IBS for over 30 years, but she experienced a significant improvement in symptoms following an introduction to a high dose of vitamin D3 supplement approximately 5 years ago.

She found that the supplementation dramatically improved her condition, while other treatments had been ineffective. Grant notes that IBS is quite a complex illness that may occur alongside other conditions, which could also benefit from the vitamin D supplements.

Associations have already been established between vitamin D and inflammatory bowel disease, blood pressure and heart and kidney disease.

The researchers plan to carry out a larger and more definitive clinical trial and suggest that testing for vitamin D levels and vitamin D supplementation could help many patients.

Medical News Today reported earlier this year that IBS can now be diagnosed with two simple blood tests.