Study: Vitamin D Does Not Ease IBS Symptoms

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder. IBS symptoms can vary, but abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits are most common. Bowel habit changes can include constipation, diarrhea, or both. Those living with IBS often change their diet to improve their symptoms. Because of this and the bowel changes, some people with IBS may have low vitamin levels.1

Vitamin D deficiency in IBS

A common vitamin problem in IBS is low vitamin D levels (deficiency). Vitamin D can come from the sun or our diet. Unfortunately, vitamin D is not found in many foods other than fatty fish. Common foods often have added vitamin D to help people eat enough of it every day. These include milk, yogurt, orange juice, and cereal.2,3

The vitamin D that comes from our diet is fat-soluble. Other fat-soluble vitamins include A, E, and K. Fat-soluble vitamins need to be pulled into the cells of our intestines using other fats. IBS can damage our intestines, making it more difficult for those cells to absorb these vitamins. Those who experience diarrhea from their IBS may also release fat-soluble vitamins in their stool before the body can absorb them.2

What does vitamin D do?

Vitamin D is crucial to keeping our bones strong. It is needed for our body to absorb calcium and phosphorus, minerals used to build bone. It is also very important for our hormones. Think of getting enough vitamins as a long-term strategy. You may not notice it right now, but having all those nutrients might be important later!3

It is possible to have vitamin D deficiency and not know it. In children, this is called rickets. Rickets is rare in the United States because vitamin D is added to many foods. Rickets causes bone weakness and abnormal bone growth. In adults, vitamin D deficiency may cause fatigue, bone pain, muscle weakness, muscle cramps, or depressed mood. However, not everyone has symptoms.3

Do vitamin D supplements ease IBS symptoms?

Because low vitamin D levels are common in those living with IBS, experts have researched the effects of vitamin D supplements. In a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, researchers wrote that they found replacing vitamin D did not help IBS symptoms or improve the quality of life for those living with IBS.4

What does this research mean for me?

If you have IBS and low vitamin D levels, vitamin D supplements may not improve your IBS symptoms. However, vitamin D is crucial to our health as we age. Preventing osteoporosis is an important way to stay active and independent. Everyone is encouraged to eat vitamin D-enriched foods. Speak to your doctor before starting any vitamin D supplements.3

If you are someone living with IBS, you are at risk of having a low vitamin D level. Speak to your doctor about any concerns you have. Your doctor can order a simple blood test to look at your vitamin D level. If this level is low, you may be given high doses of vitamin D in pill form. This may be especially helpful if vitamin D-rich foods like dairy trigger your IBS symptoms.3

You may also want to increase the vitamin D you take in from the sun. Experts have different opinions on how much sun is enough each day. Currently, the recommendation is 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure on your arms, legs, or back every 2 to 3 days. If you have a history of skin cancer or other conditions, extra sun exposure may not be right for you. Reach out to your doctor to learn more about how much sun is right for you. It is also important to talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any treatments.3

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