Overview

Vitamin D promotes strong bones and teeth. Good sources include sunshine, milk, cheese, egg yolks, orange juice, and cereal.

Although vitamin D is found in a variety of foods, many people don’t get enough. Adults between the ages of 19 and 70 need about 600 IU of vitamin D per day.

Since vitamin D contributes to strong bones, aches and pains are symptoms of a deficiency. A vitamin D deficiency may also play a role in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Understanding how vitamin D may affect IBS can help you decide whether to speak with your doctor about possibly taking supplements to relieve bothersome symptoms.

Does low vitamin D cause IBS?

IBS is a common gastrointestinal (GI) condition. It affects the large intestines. It causes different symptoms, like stomach pain, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and constipation. Although IBS can be chronic, or long-term, it doesn't damage the large intestines. Doctors can usually make a diagnosis of IBS after ruling out other gastrointestinal conditions.

The cause of IBS is unknown, although it’s believed that certain foods, stress, and hormonal changes may trigger symptoms.

Recent research also suggests a possible connection between vitamin D and IBS. There appears to be a higher prevalence of IBS among people with a vitamin D deficiency. One study compared vitamin D levels in 60 people who have IBS and 100 people who don’t. Vitamin D deficiencies were detected in 49 of the 60 people in the IBS group, whereas only 31 people in the non-IBS group had vitamin D deficiencies.

Another study examining the connection between IBS and vitamin D deficiency in children had similar findings, with more than 50 percent of participants with IBS also having a vitamin D deficiency.

The results of both studies suggest the importance of vitamin D screenings for adults and children who have IBS, although more research is needed. It’s unclear whether a vitamin D deficiency causes IBS or IBS causes the deficiency.

Can vitamin D supplements help IBS?

Since research suggests a link between vitamin D deficiency and IBS, taking vitamin D supplements may help improve symptoms.

One study examined the effects of high doses of vitamin D on IBS. Half of the study’s participants received a dose of 50,000 IU of vitamin D3 every two weeks for six months. The other half were given a placebo. On top of major increases in vitamin D levels, participants also reported significant improvements in their IBS symptoms. Researchers thus believe it’s possible for vitamin D supplements to improve symptoms of IBS, but more controlled trials are necessary to determine whether taking supplements on a daily basis can improve symptoms.

What else can I do about my IBS?

If you have IBS, ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels. If blood work determines a vitamin D deficiency, your doctor may prescribe vitamin D supplements.

You can also try these strategies to help manage symptoms:

1. Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms. Keep a food journal to identify possible trigger foods. Problematic foods differ from person to person, but may include carbonated drinks, vegetables, and gluten, which can cause gas and diarrhea.

2. Take a fiber supplement. Take a fiber supplement to normalize bowel activity. Gradually increase your fiber intake to avoid diarrhea. Fiber supplements include over-the-counter products like psyllium (Metamucil) and methylcellulose (Citrucel). Or you can increase your fiber naturally by eating more fruits and vegetables.

3. Use antidiarrheal medication. Antidiarrheal medication helps control loose stools. Take the medication as directed.

4. Ask about prescription medication. Talk to your doctor about medications to ease IBS symptoms. Two medications are approved for the treatment of IBS: alosetron (Lotronex) for IBS with diarrhea and lubiprostone (Amitiza) for IBS with constipation.

5. Get plenty of exercise. Regular exercise can stimulate intestinal contractions and resolve constipation. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.

6. Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration can also cause hard stools and contribute to constipation. Drink 8 to 10 glasses of fluids daily, preferably water, natural juices, or decaf tea and coffee.

7. Alternative therapies. Some alternative therapies may relieve symptoms of IBS. These include acupuncture, hypnosis, massage therapy, and meditation for stress relief.

Takeaway

IBS can be a chronic, long-term condition. If you have a vitamin D deficiency, correcting this deficiency may provide relief and reverse symptoms.

Talk to your doctor about monitoring your vitamin levels and making the necessary lifestyle and dietary changes to avoid irritating your condition.