Vitamin D is traditionally known for its vital role in the development of strong bones and teeth, as without it, calcium cannot be taken up by the body. In recent times, there have been new insights into the role of this freely available vitamin in other physiological functions of the body. In particular, is the association of low levels of vitamin D with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
IBD is a condition characterized by chronic inflammation of parts of the digestive tract and manifesting symptoms of cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, rectal bleeding or blood in the stools, fatigue and inflammation in the skin, joints or eyes. The exact cause for this disease is not very clear, but it is believed to occur due to a combination of the environment, genetics and the body’s defense system (immune system). The underlying mechanism for the development of the condition is an abnormal immune response to the normal bacterial flora of the intestine in genetically susceptible individuals. Now, studies have found low levels of vitamin D as a potential causative agent for IBD.
Vitamin D can be sourced from sunshine, foods such as salmon, beef liver, cheese and egg yolk, as well as supplements. It functions by attaching itself to a receptor, a receiver present on certain cells, and directing the cell to function in a particular manner. Scientists have found these vitamin D receptors on the cells of the digestive tract and immune system. In patients with IBD, vitamin D has been found to lower the action of the immune system in its production of inflammatory proteins; one of them being the tumor-necrosis factor (TNF). Medication prescribed for IBD also targets and blocks TNF; thus corroborating the link between IBD and vitamin D.
As sunlight is a major source of vitamin D, reduced exposure in the northern latitudes have shown an increase in the risk of developing IBD. The condition cannot be cured, but research shows that it can be managed, kept in remission and associated complications (infection, surgery, colon cancer and hospitalization) controlled by increasing the body’s levels of vitamin D. Other studies have found that 5,000 IU per day of vitamin D has the potential to reduce disease activity and improve quality of life.
With these recent updates on its positive influence, this sunshine vitamin holds hope for around 1.4 million Americans who are suffering from IBD. Regulating the levels of vitamin D in your body can serve as a natural treatment of IBD and possibly keep you off medications. Make sure you consult with your doctor about the appropriate dose of vitamin D supplements that are optimal for your overall health.
At Greater Houston Gastroenterology, we provide specialized services and treatments for a wide range of gastrointestinal conditions. Our dedicated clinical staff and physician assistants are available to assist in delivering high-quality treatment and expert care. As the largest GI group in the greater Houston area, we offer 17 locations for your convenience.