Supplements to Consider When You Have Crohn's Diseaseby Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional
Most dietitians will tell you that it's better to get your nutrients from the foods that you eat, rather than relying on supplements. Unfortunately, this is not always possible for those with Crohn's disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Whether due to lack of absorption or inability to eat a well-rounded diet, having Crohn's may mean you need supplements to stay healthy. Read on to learn about supplements you may want to consider — and check with your doctor to see which ones are right for your specific needs.
While it may sound counterintuitive due to certain Crohn’s symptoms, fiber still plays an important role in your gut health, and it can be hard to get enough of it. Soluble fiber can actually help the body by bulking up the stool, as opposed to insoluble fiber, which cannot be digested and tends to loosen stools. Try a soluble fiber supplement to see if it helps your symptoms and gut health.
Vitamin D is important in bone health and calcium absorption. It may also play a role in immune system function as well as preventing depression and fatigue. Many people in the U.S. are deficient in this vitamin. Ask your doctor to run a quick blood test to see if you may need to supplement with vitamin D as well.
Iron can be hard to absorb when you are dealing with IBD and can be easily lost, as well — especially in menstruating women, those having surgery, or patients losing blood in their stool. Too little iron can eventually cause anemia and impair the body’s ability to repair itself. If you take an iron supplement, try taking it with a glass of orange juice or something acidic to improve absorption.
If you are having a hard time digesting dairy products or you’re on oral steroids for your Crohn’s, you may be deficient in calcium. Your doctor can check your levels and let you know if it’s time to supplement. Often this supplementation will be done in conjunction with other vitamins or minerals like vitamin D or magnesium at your physician’s discretion.
Zinc is an important mineral in the rebuilding of muscle and tissues as well as boosting the immune system to fight off things like the cold virus. If you are deficient, you may notice poor wound healing, skin rashes, weight loss, hair loss, or eye sores. Talk with your doctor about whether you need supplementation and the best way to get it.
Vitamin C is absorbed in the intestine and can be lacking in those with Crohn’s disease. In the body, vitamin C plays a key role in wound healing, preventing oxidative stress, and even aiding in proper immune system functioning. Needless to say, this vitamin is essential when you are dealing with any chronic illness. Take it with your iron supplement to boost the effectiveness of the latter.
Folic acid, also known as B9 or folate, is a water-soluble vitamin. Folic acid deficiency can lead to anemia. Have your doctor check to see if you are deficient if you have any symptoms of anemia, which could include excessive fatigue, hair loss, or lack of stamina.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, and it can be easy to be deficient in this vitamin when you are unable to eat the fats you need due to a Crohn’s flare-up. Vitamin A plays a critical role in the body including the proper functioning of the eyes, cell growth, and the function and maintenance of most organs. A vitamin A deficiency can lead to increased diarrhea in children and night blindness, and it may be linked with iron deficiency as well.
Vitamin E is another fat-soluble antioxidant that plays a role in immune system function. If you're dealing with Crohn’s, you need your immune system to be working at its optimal level. Sometimes you'll need supplementation because the foods with the highest sources of vitamin E (nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables) may not be palatable with Crohn’s. Fortified cereals can help boost your levels on the days when vegetables aren’t sitting well with your stomach. Ask your doctor if you think it’s time to start supplementing your diet.
Potassium is a mineral that can frequently be lacking in people with Crohn’s who deal with constant diarrhea. Unfortunately, your body needs potassium for almost everything it does. Not obtaining adequate amounts of potassium can cause issues with the bones and contribute to high blood pressure or stroke. If you are feeling weak, have palpitations or think you may be dehydrated or deficient in potassium, talk with your doctor about the best way to replenish your stores.
The bottom line on supplements and Crohn's
Not everyone with Crohn’s disease will need to take supplements, but it is still important to keep track of your nutritional status with your physician or dietitian. Knowing the status of your health can keep a minor deficiency from turning into a big problem down the line.