Vitamin D improves quality of life for IBS sufferers
April is IBS Awareness Month, a campaign aiming at improving diagnosis and treatment of IBS, and heightening awareness of both the condition and its affect on sufferers.
IBS impacts severely on quality of life, with patients commonly suffering with pain, discomfort and social embarrassment. Previous studies have found that IBS patients demonstrate significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression than healthy individuals (1). Research in this area is desperately needed, as IBS affects as many as 1 in 5 of us, and many people struggle to manage the condition.
The relationship between IBS and mood disorders is a complex one. Stress, anxiety and depression can cause digestive issues because the nervous system and the digestive system are linked. In addition, IBS symptoms can cause anxiety and stress for sufferers.
Fortunately, some recent promising research has revealed that vitamin D supplementation may improve the quality of life of IBS sufferers (2). This pilot study will hopefully lead to further research in this area.
The recent study, published in the British Medical Journal, was a double-blind, randomised trial. It compared the effects of a placebo, vitamin D, and a combination of vitamin D and probiotics on IBS patients.
Each patient was randomly assigned to receive a placebo, a vitamin D supplement, or a vitamin D and probiotic supplement. Over the course of 12 weeks, each patient completed several health questionnaires to monitor symptoms and quality of life.
The study found that 82% of the IBS patients were deficient in vitamin D. As expected, at the end of 12 weeks, the final results showed that those who had supplemented vitamin D had improved blood levels of vitamin D. In addition, the results also showed a strong link between vitamin D status and quality of life. Those who had supplemented vitamin D felt that their IBS symptoms had less influence on wellbeing compared to their vitamin D deficient counterparts.
Those supplementing vitamin D also showed improvement in all IBS symptoms as their vitamin D levels improved, although the study was too small to draw a firm conclusion about this. Lead researcher Dr Bernard Corfe stated that these results nevertheless “justify a larger and more definitive clinical trial.”
More research is needed to clarify the link between vitamin D and IBS. The gut is home to millions of vitamin D receptors, and vitamin D helps to protect the gut lining, preventing ‘leaky gut’, and it also reduces levels of inflammation in the digestive tract. Its role in the immune system means that vitamin D is also believed to be helpful in protecting against digestive infections and overgrowths.
Dr Corfe added: “Our data provides a potential new insight into the condition and more importantly, a new way to try to manage it.”
The study certainly suggests that those with IBS should ensure that they have adequate levels of vitamin D, especially if they are suffering with stress and anxiety. “It was clear from our findings that many people with IBS should have their vitamin D levels tested” says Dr Corfe, “and the data suggests that they may benefit from supplementation with vitamin D.”
1. Hyun Sun Cho et al (2011) Anxiety, Depression and Quality of Life in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gut Liver. 5(1): 29–36
2. Tazzyman S et al (2015) Vitamin D associates with improved quality of life in participants with irritable bowel syndrome: outcomes from a pilot trial. BMJ Open Gastro 2:e000052.