Could vitamin D supplements treat IBS?

People with irritable bowel syndrome could alleviate their symptoms by taking vitamin D supplements. This is the conclusion of a new study recently published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects the large intestine. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, and constipation.

It is estimated that IBS affects around 12 percent of people in the United States, and women are almost twice as likely to develop the condition as men.

Precisely what causes IBS remains a mystery, though certain foods and stressful life events are some known triggers for the condition.

Current treatments for IBS include diet and lifestyle changes and medications such as loperamide and laxatives, to help ease abnormal bowel movements.

"IBS is a poorly understood condition which impacts severely on the quality of life of sufferers," says Dr. Bernard Corfe, of the Department of Oncology and Metabolism at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, and the lead author of the new study. "There is no single known cause and likewise no single known cure," he adds.

Previous research has indicated that people with the condition have low levels of vitamin D, which suggests that this vitamin could play a role in IBS.

Vitamin D may ease IBS symptoms

Vitamin D is essential for the human body. Not only is it important for bone health, but the vitamin plays a key role in nerve cell communication and immune system functioning.

Vitamin D deficiency is a known risk factor for rickets — a bone development disorder that affects children — and osteomalacia, a condition in adults whereby the bones become soft.

Studies have also linked low vitamin D to other bone disorders, such as osteoporosis, as well as to inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.

To find out more about the link between vitamin D and IBS, Dr. Corfe and his team conducted an analysis of all available literature, including studies that investigated vitamin D levels among people with IBS, as well as studies that looked at symptoms of IBS among people who took vitamin D supplements.

According to the researchers, the evidence to date indicates that vitamin D deficiency is common among people with IBS, and this is the case across ethnicities.

Furthermore, studies show that there is an inverse link between vitamin D levels and the severity of IBS symptoms, the team reports.

Importantly, Dr. Corfe and colleagues say there is also evidence to suggest that vitamin D supplementation could improve the symptoms of IBS.

"The study provides an insight into the condition and, importantly, a new way to try to manage it [...] It is evident from the findings that all people with IBS should have their vitamin D levels tested and a large majority of them would benefit from supplements."

Dr. Bernard Corfe

That said, the researchers stress that larger studies are needed before vitamin D supplementation can be widely recommended for people with IBS.