Like many Crohn’s disease (CD) patients, your vitamin D blood level may be low. While this deficiency can contribute to CD, the disease also reduces the amount of vitamin D your damaged intestines can absorb from food. Multiple studies have shown that vitamin D can reduce the risk of developing this inflammatory immune disease and improve its symptoms. Over-the-counter and prescription vitamin D supplements can’t replace prescribed treatments, so continue taking CD medications as directed. However, you may find increased relief if you couple your medications with these tips for increased vitamin D.
What Is Crohn’s?
Incurable CD, an inflammatory bowel disease, affects about 700,000 Americans, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. Experts believe the immune system attacks harmless intestinal bacteria, thickening the intestinal wall and triggering chronic inflammation. Crohn’s can affect any part of your gastrointestinal tract, but it involves the end of your small bowel and beginning of your colon most often.
Symptoms vary, but may include abdominal cramps, pain, persistent bloody or watery diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fever, decreased appetite and weight loss. Crohn’s disease puts you at risk for malnutrition because your intestines can’t absorb all the nutrients you need from your diet — including vitamin D.
Why and Where to Get Vitamin D
Research shows that vitamin D is critical for good health and disease prevention as it influences about 10 percent of your genes. Vitamin D upregulates your ability to fight infections and chronic inflammation. Multiple studies concluded higher vitamin D levels may reduce the risk of CD. Combine sources below to get Vitamin D every day.
Foods and beverages. Eat fatty fish (halibut, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, snapper, swordfish, trout, tuna, whitefish), oysters, black and red caviar, beef liver, pork, mushrooms, egg yolks, cheese and fortified foods (cereal, tofu, yogurt, milk, soy milk and orange juice).
Supplements. The U.S. National Institutes of Health advises children and adults aged 1 to 70 years old to get 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D per day. Older adults need to increase their dosage to 800 IUs. Typical safe higher adult dosages range from 1000 to 4000 IUs.
Sunshine. Just five to 30 minutes of direct sun exposure on your face, arms, legs or back without sunscreen twice a week will stimulate vitamin D-3 production. A handy DMinder smartphone app will tell you how much UV radiation you’re getting and how many IUs of the sunshine vitamin you’re making based on your local weather conditions and individual parameters including your skin tone and age. It also alerts you when to get out of the sun to avoid sunburn.
Studies suggest vitamin D may lower your risk of developing Crohn’s disease by reducing inflammation and maintaining a strong mucosal barrier or intestinal lining.
You may have periods of Crohn’s disease remission during your lifetime. A study found that people who took 1200 IUs or 30 mcg of vitamin D-3 (cholecalciferol) supplements per day had half as many CD relapses as those taking a placebo.
Studies Show Vitamin D’s Curing Capabilities
Inflammatory bowel disease tends to increase physical, emotional and general fatigue as well as decrease muscle strength. In a three-month study, participants took either 2000 IUs of vitamin D a day or a dummy vitamin. Researchers measured vitamin D blood levels, fatigue, hand-grip strength and quality of life before and after adding vitamin D.
Daily supplements benefited study subjects in many ways including significantly less fatigue. When healthy vitamin D levels reached 30 nanograms/milliliters (75 nanomles/liters) or more, study subjects’ muscle function in both dominant and non-dominant hands was significantly higher than in people with lower levels. This enabled them to perform daily living activities. Researchers found people who achieved healthy vitamin D blood levels scored 24 points higher on a standard quality of life measure than those not on supplements.
Besides boosting bone growth and remodeling, vitamin D may improve neuromuscular and immune function, reduce inflammation and help with other bodily tasks. Other research confirms vitamin D stimulates and regulates the innate immune system to defend against pathogenic bacteria in the intestines. It also enhances the intestinal lining’s barrier function.
More Than Relief From Typical Symptoms
Vitamin D is crucial for regulating calcium and phosphorus metabolism. It also plays an important role in maintaining proper bone structure. But CD’s chronic inflammation and tendency to make patients vitamin D deficient lead to increased bone loss and thus higher osteopenia and osteoporosis risks. Research shows despite age and gender, inflammatory bowel disease patients with abnormal bone density exams had significantly higher vitamin D deficiency rates than those with normal scans.
A calcium supplement with vitamin D can improve your Crohn’s disease while boosting bone health. Other ways to reduce your osteoporosis risk include engaging in regular weight-bearing exercise, not smoking, limiting alcohol and caffeine and eating a healthy balanced diet. Schedule regular vitamin D blood tests and bone density tests.
Take Care of Yourself
While multiple studies have documented various ways vitamin D benefitted Crohn’s disease patients, your situation is unique to you. You can’t get too much vitamin D from your diet and limited sunshine. However, consult your doctor about vitamin D supplementation alone or with calcium before taking a high therapeutic dosage. He or she can determine the proper amount for your situation.