Vitamin D not effective in easing IBS discomfort

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images /  Tharakorn
Getty Images / Tharakorn

Related tags Ibs

Stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea and constipation—Today, most doctors recognize symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, standardized criteria to diagnose the condition didn't exist until the 1980s.

A new study from the University of Sheffield in England has found vitamin D supplements are not effective in easing painful symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). 

People with IBS often have poor vitamin D levels, so scientists from the University's Department of Oncology and Metabolism—in conjunction with health supplement company, BetterYou, got to work. 

The scientists at Sheffield were the first to suggest a possible link between people living with IBS and low vitamin D levels in 2012, and have since followed the issue closely. 

The research was recently published in the European Journal of Nutrition. 

The study & its findings

Researchers carried out clinical trials over 12 weeks on participants who suffer from IBS to assess whether vitamin D reduced the severity of their symptoms, and whether it could improve their quality of life.

Results of the study found that despite an improvement in vitamin D status in the participants in response to a vitamin D3 oral spray supplementation over a 12 week trial, there was no difference to their IBS symptom severity over the same period, nor a reported change in the participants' quality of life.

Although vitamin D supplements do not ease IBS symptoms, a vitamin D deficiency is widespread among the IBS population, potentially leading to an increased risk of suffering from fractures and osteoporosis in the long-term.

"There has been interest from researchers and from patient groups in the potential of high dose vitamin D to alleviate symptoms of IBS, but there haven't been many properly controlled trials in this area. What our research shows is that supplementing vitamin D at a safe dose did not reduce the severity of IBS symptoms,” ​said co-author of the study Dr. Liz Williams, a senior lecturer in Human Nutrition at the University of Sheffield. "It is worth noting however, that the vitamin D supplementation did correct deficiencies in those people who were found to have poor vitamin D status, and this is important for other aspects such as bone and muscle health."

IBS can interrupt lifestyle 

Lead-author Professor of Human Nutrition and Health at Newcastle University and Honorary Fellow at the University of Sheffield, Bernard Corfe noted that these low vitamin D levels may be attributable to changes in diet and lifestyle, such as limiting outdoor activities due to the anxiety their symptoms can cause, or alter their diet to avoid certain foods triggering their symptoms.

"Unfortunately all of these coping mechanisms can be detrimental to overall health and wellbeing and reduce exposure to valuable sources of vitamin D,” ​said Corfe. “Given that vitamin D is essential for overall health and wellbeing, it is still important people with IBS get tested and treated and seek dietary advice so it does not impact on their long term health."

"As it is estimated that between five and 15 percent of the population could be living with IBS—some undiagnosed due to the anxiety and embarrassment their symptoms can cause—it is vitally important we continue with research to find new ways to diagnose, treat and understand the impact of IBS on the population," ​he added. 

According to the researchers, this study is the largest, and most definitive study to date showing clearly that vitamin D supplementation does not ease severe IBS symptoms.

Despite decades of research, there is still no cure for IBS.

Source: European Journal of Nutrition
"Vitamin D supplementation in people with IBS has no effect on symptom severity and quality of life: results of a randomised controlled trial"
Authors: CE Williams, et al.

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