Could an over-the-counter supplement help people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), an umbrella term for conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease that involve immune response and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract? In findings published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, University of Pittsburgh senior author David Binion, MD, and his team reported that low vitamin D levels—a vitamin that is available in foods, as a dietary supplement, and when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin—are common in people with IBD and are associated with worse pain, an increased need for medications, and more healthcare visits.
Researchers analyzed data from 965 people with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease enrolled in a patient registry at The Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at the University of Pittsburgh and found that 29.9 percent had low vitamin D levels, a number that is higher than the prevalence in the general population. The researchers checked participants’ vitamin D levels every few months and tracked their medication use, doctor’s visits, and self-reported health and wellbeing. Compared to participants with normal vitamin D levels, the participants with low vitamin D levels used healthcare services 44 percent more including CT scans, emergency room visits, and hospital admissions; took more medications such as steroids, biologics, and narcotics; and reported more pain and a worse quality of life.
While more research is needed to better understand the relationship between vitamin D and IBD, the authors note that people with low vitamin D levels who took supplements saw a significant reduction in healthcare utilization, which was a reflection of their overall improved health. According to the article, “Coming years will reveal the findings of ongoing clinical trials, which are evaluating the effects of high-dose vitamin D supplementation in IBD patients.”
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