Vitamin D and Your Digestion

Vitamin D written in the sand with foam from a wave washing upYou know vitamin D is good for your bones and your teeth, but here’s another little known fact for you: the sunshine vitamin may also help your digestion. We’ve suspected this for years, but a new study links low vitamin D to IBS symptoms like diarrhea and constipation.
While the study was small, it’s an interesting turn in our understanding of irritable bowel syndrome. In November we learned that food allergies may explain why some folks are more prone to IBS than others. This new study builds on that, and suggests that low vitamin D may also play a role – albeit one we’re still learning about.
So what does this mean? It means you may want your physician to review your vitamin D levels, especially if you have digestion problems. Earlier research links deficiency in the vitamin to both Crohn’s and colitis. Extrapolate a little and you can see how low vitamin D may contribute to IBS – and more importantly, that it might bring relief to some people when addressed with their doctor.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a role in many important body functions. It’s best known for working with calcium to strengthen bones, but vitamin D is involved with immune function as well.

People low in vitamin D may be at higher risk of severe irritable bowel syndrome. We’re leaning to this conclusion after a British study, published in December, found that eight out of 10 IBS patients had low levels of this essential nutrient.

You can get vitamin D from food sources, but you get most of it from sunlight, which your body stores and then converts to either of two forms of the vitamin: ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3).
People with dark skin absorb less vitamin D than lighter-skinned folks. You may also be deficient in vitamin D if you live in the northern half of the United States, which get less sun than states like California, Arizona and those in the sun belt.
One study found that 54% of African-American and 42% of Caucasian women in the northern states had low levels of vitamin D.

Vitamin D and IBS

People low in vitamin D may be at higher risk of severe irritable bowel syndrome. We’re leaning to this conclusion after a British study, published in December, found that eight out of 10 IBS patients had low levels of this essential nutrient.
The study was small, and the results preliminary, but are nonetheless striking; blood tests found a full 82% of participants had low vitamin D. And folks in this category said they had lower quality of life compared to folks without the deficiency.
For their methodology, the researchers randomly assigned participants to take vitamin D supplements, a placebo tablet or a combination of vitamin D and probiotics for 12 weeks.
Man_With_IBSThis was a double blind study. Neither researchers nor the participants knew who was taking which supplements until the study ended.
While the researchers found no significant improvements in IBS symptoms among those who took supplements, that might be due to the small size of the study and the short time involved. The study authors want to do a bigger study for more conclusive results – and they suggest IBS patients have their vitamin D levels checked while we learn more about this interesting connection.

Vitamin D Linked to Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Vitamin D may also influence colitis, Crohn’s and inflammatory bowel disease. Animal studies done in 2000 found that deficiency in the vitamin can make both conditions worse. In particular, mice that were genetically programmed to develop bowel disease had worse symptoms if they were low in the vitamin.
The study found the mice’s IBD symptoms was linked proportionately to their vitamin D. Those with the lowest amount of the vitamin got the sickest, possibly because the vitamin appeared to control some of the immune cells that would otherwise damage the intestine.

Too much vitamin D can be harmful. That’s why you’ll want to have this chat with your doctor first, before you supplement. You may have special needs or other health considerations that affect how much vitamin D you should be taking.

The mice in the study were engineered to develop symptoms resembling IBD at a very young age. Those that were deficient in vitamin D developed severe intestinal damage and died early. Researchers gave some of the mice D supplements and none of them died.
A few mice also received a high-potency preparation of vitamin D, which greatly reduced the amount of intestinal damage seen with the condition, say the researchers, though they warn this supplement is too dangerous for humans.
Still, the results are significant. The study authors say there’s enough here to suggest doctors may want to review vitamin D levels in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Combine this evidence with the recently found link between the vitamin and IBS and it’s clear there’s a connection between vitamin D and your digestion.
We’ll likely learn more about this link in the future – and it’s a conversation you might want to have with your doctor.

How to Get More Vitamin D

First, a warning. Too much vitamin D can be harmful. That’s why you’ll want to have this chat with your doctor first, before you supplement. You may have special needs or other health considerations that affect how much vitamin D you should be taking.
And most people already get enough vitamin D, according to the Institute of Medicine.
Young_Woman_VItamin_D_FoodsStill, there’s something here. Your doctor might also say you’re lower in vitamin D than he’d like you to be. You might remedy that with diet and vitamin D-lifestyle tips, which include:
Get Some Sun – Sun exposure is the obvious way to get vitamin D. There’s no official recommendation for how long you should do this unprotected, because of the skin cancer risk, though one doctor suggests 20 to 25 minutes daily should do the trick. Note you don’t get the benefit of vitamin D from the sun through windows.
Eat Fatty Fish – Add vitamin D to the many health benefits of fatty fish like salmon.  A three ounce filet of sockeye packs about 400 international units of the stuff – or about 600 of the daily recommended intake by the Institute of Medicine.
Canned tuna and sardines also provide a good kick of vitamin D, and they’re cheaper than fresh fish, but be wary of a potential carcinogen in food tins called BPA.
Try Mushrooms – Some mushroom species produce vitamin D. You’ll have to experiment with this option though, because most species grow in the dark and don’t have the UV exposure needed to make the vitamin – look for brands like Dole, whose Portobello mushrooms will give you about 400IU of vitamin D per 3 ounce serving.
That’s about a cup of diced mushrooms.
Drink Fortified Milk – Most cow milk sold in the United States is fortified with vitamin D, but not cheese or ice cream. Generally, an 8 ounce glass of milk nets you at least 100 IU of the vitamin, though that drops to about 80IU if you D-up with yogurt. Rice and soy milk may also be options – check their ingredients.
Drink Orange Juice – Vitamin D is in no short supply in the Sunshine state, and the same goes for its most famous export. In fact, orange juice gets you similar levels of vitamin D than milk, although this tends to vary among brands. Florida Natural Orange Juice and Minute Maid Kids+ Orange Juice both have 100IU per 8 ounce servings.
Eat Egg Yolks – Don’t fear the yolk – that’s where the goodness lies, including the vitamin D in this protein-rich food. One yolk gets you about 40IUs, but don’t go overboard, because that same egg has about 200mg of cholesterol.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 300mg of cholesterol each day to keep your heart healthy.
Buy Fortified Cereals – Vitamin D starts first thing in the morning when you go this route. Pair a fortified cereal like MultiGrain Cheerios with half a cup of milk or orange juice and you’re off to a running start, with almost 200IU of vitamin D to greet the day.
Eat Beef Liver (Shudder) – The worst-tasting meat is also one of the healthiest – a 3.5 ounce cooked filet of the much-maligned beef packs about 50IU of vitamin D. You’ll also get vitamin A and a hair growth-friendly wallop of iron and protein.
Use Cod-Liver Oil – One tablespoon of the popular immune-boosting supplement gives you 1300IUs of vitamin D. That’s over twice the daily recommended 600IUs, which doesn’t exceed the maximum intake of 4,000IUs in people over eight years-old, but it’s too high for infants. Speak with your doctor if you go this route.
Vitamin_D_LampLighten Up Dude! – If you’re feeling SAD or otherwise need a further way to put a little vitamin D in your life, a UV-emitting lamp or bulb might help – especially in winter or dark locations. They’re like indoor tanning lamps, but smaller, and they come with the same skin cancer risks as tanning beds.
Speak with your doctor about this option, and/or other ways vitamin D may help quell your troubled tummy.

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