Vitamin D supplements not effective for easing pain from irritable bowel syndrome

SHEFFIELD, United Kingdom — Vitamin D supplements will not help reduce the painful symptoms that go along with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a new study finds. Scientists from the University of Sheffield identified that people with the debilitating condition often have a high prevalence of poor vitamin D levels. With that in mind, researchers hoped supplements could ease some of the problems — but are discovering it won’t.

In a clinical trial over 12 weeks, participants reported no difference to their IBS symptom severity or any change in their quality of life. IBS is a chronic and sometimes debilitating condition, causing problems such as stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. It affects over 10 percent of the population.

More vitamin D is still good for overall health

The study did find that supplements do boost vitamin D levels, which could prevent 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,” says Dr. Liz Williams in a university release. “What our research shows is that supplementing vitamin D at a safe dose did not reduce the severity of IBS symptoms.”

“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,” Dr. Williams adds.

“For some people living with severe IBS, low vitamin D levels may be attributable to changes in diet and lifestyle,” explains Professor Bernard Corfe, head of Human Nutrition and Health at Newcastle University. “Some may feel due to the severity of their symptoms that they limit their 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,” Corfe continues. “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.”

The stigma of IBS leads to unreported cases

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

“There is a range of management strategies that people living with IBS can seek help with from their GP, but because of the heterogeneity of the syndrome, managing IBS can be trial and error for each individual patient,” Prof. Corfe concludes.

“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.”

The findings appear in the European Journal of Nutrition.

South West News Service writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.