Are We A Step Closer to Breaking the Code on IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an agonizing disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. The disease commonly affects the large intestine and can involve abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, excess gas, belching or constipation. IBS is a chronic disorder with no cure and is more prevalent in women than men. Current data indicate that IBS affects close to 10-23% of adults worldwide and at least 10-15% of adults in the US.
What causes IBS is unknown, but there are a lot of theories. The universal theme in all these theories is that the walls of the intestine somehow develop strong/weak contractions, which accounts for the abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. The treatment of IBS is not satisfactory and there appear to be many triggers. What works for one person may not work for another individual, and even when something works, it somehow loses its effectiveness in the long run.
The Numbers of People With IBS Are Staggering
IBS accounts for over 3 million visits to healthcare providers each year in the US. The disorder is associated with high economic burden and absenteeism from work leading to less productivity. Many people with IBS have difficulties in interpersonal relationships and lead a poor quality of life. Extensive research has been done to determine the cause so that a treatment can be developed. Now there is a research study showing that people who have IBS may have low vitamin D levels.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield Gastroenterology Department investigated the levels of vitamins and severity of IBS symptoms. They looked at 51 patients and found that nearly 82% had low levels of vitamin D. Questionnaires revealed that individuals with a poorer quality of life also reported lowest levels of vitamin D. The lead researcher, Dr. Corfe, mentioned that these data provide a new insight into the condition and a novel way to manage it.
So Should all IBS patients be taking Vitamin D supplements?
There is a new paper out on vitamin D almost on a weekly basis, and predictably when the levels are either high or low, people make an automatic association to a disease. There have been correlations made between low levels of vitamin D and to almost every known disorder, but correlation does not constitute causation. Sure there are some anecdotal reports of vitamin D supplements and improvement in IBS patients, but this is not a universal observation. This study only looked at 51 patients, and the follow-up was very short. IBS patients undergo remissions and relapses on a weekly or monthly basis, so it is hard to know if any treatment is working. Also, many other adults have low vitamin D levels and never develop symptoms of IBS.
Furthermore, even people with normal levels of vitamin D develop IBS. Therefore, just measuring levels of a vitamin D and making an association to a complex disorder like IBS is not very compelling. Vitamin D levels fluctuate in the body for many reasons, and there are many other causes of low vitamin D. Just empirically prescribing vitamin D to all patients with IBS may not be recommended in all cases, as vitamin D itself can cause severe constipation and worsen the symptoms.
IBS is a complex disorder whose pathology is not well understood. No one knows why the intestinal wall activity is exacerbated or sluggish in these individuals. If Vitamin D supplements were the simple answer, then surely we would have seen a decline in the number of people with IBS, which is not the case. There are millions of individuals with IBS, who have been taking several supplements besides Vitamin D for years, without any change in their disease. Diseases are multifactorial and until more is known, only relying on vitamin D may be utterly foolhardy. The best way to manage symptoms is to maintain a daily diary and eliminate any food that triggers specific symptoms.
Reader – Do you know anyone with IBS who also has a Vitamin D efficiency?
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(H/T) IBS’ New Foe Vitamin D