Vitamin D & Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Patient Expert

Winter is just around the corner and that means that spring is four to five months, or more, away. In winter, when the sun shifts and it is farther away from the earth it means fewer UV rays are felt at the surface. Plus, those cooler temperatures mean we are wearing longer sleeved shirts and pants so the chance that we are getting enough, if any, vitamin D on our skin during winter is low. Vitamin D3 is also not a nutrient we easily get enough of from foods.

So, the question is, why is Vit. D important for those of us with Crohn's disease or Ulcerative Colitis (IBD)? First, Vit. D is necessary for maintaining strong bones and preventing osteoporosis. This is especially important if you take a steroid medication to control your IBD symptoms because steroids deplete calcium and Vit. D levels, so supplementing both of these is almost always necessary while taking the medication - this is something you should discuss with your doctor when the medication is prescribed. Secondly, Vit. D helps to boost and keep the immune system running strong, and some patients are saying it helps to relieve joint pain. Newer studies, such as those being conducted at various universities, are suggesting that maintaining proper Vit. D levels may help to reduce inflammation.

Dr. Gilaad Kaplan, a gastroenterologist with an interest in researching IBD at the University of Calgary says, "When we look at patients with IBD, and check their Vit. D levels, they are usually deficient in Vit. D."

What he doesn't yet know, is whether a patient diagnosed with IBD has worse symptoms because of low Vit. D levels, or if those who have IBD have a harder time absorbing Vit. D.

My personal experience tells me that during the summer I am able to get enough sunshine on my skin to keep my Vit. D levels in a good to good-high range (this has been noted with regular blood tests). However, as late summer/early fall present with cooler temperatures, I tend to spend less time outside with exposed skin and my Vit. D levels decrease. If I remember to begin supplementing with Vit. D starting in late August or early September (and continue to do so throughout winter into May) my Vit. D levels stay high and my gut tends to stay happier. But, in the few years that I have forgotten or neglected to begin to supplement with Vti. D in early fall I have had a flare-up of my symptoms (this happened this fall to me as well as a large percentage of other IBDers I know).

So, if you have IBD it may be wise for you to take a Vit. D supplement during the fall and winter months (some may need to take it all year long depending on how well they absorb the nutrient and how much time they can spend outside without sunscreen). How much to take is something to talk about with your family doctor or gastroenterologist. They will also want to run a blood test a month or so after you begin taking the supplement to check your Vit. D levels and see how well you are absorbing it or if you need to increase or decrease the dose.