How Vitamin D Can Help You Manage Crohn’s Disease
Find out why this vital nutrient is so important for people with Crohn’s, and how you can get enough of it.
By Ajai Raj
Medically Reviewed by Kareem Sassi, MD
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Did you know that Crohn's disease can increase your risk of vitamin D deficiency? According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, up to 68 percent of people with Crohn’s are vitamin D deficient, mostly because intestinal inflammation prevents them from properly absorbing nutrients. Not only that, but certain drugs that help manage Crohn’s, like cortocosteroids, can contribute to vitamin D deficiency.
Crohn’s disease also puts you at a higher risk of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis, conditions in which the body reabsorbs old bone faster than it can produce new bone. “Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D is important in bone health,” says Joel Pekow, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medicine and gastroenterologist at the University of Chicago Medicine Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center.
Apart from sunlight and very few foods — like milk and eggs, which may trigger a flare — vitamin D is difficult to come by naturally.
Some recent studies suggest that supplementing with Vitamin D could be beneficial for people with Crohn’s.
The Relationship Between Vitamin D and Inflammation
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation to the digestive tract. As it happens, vitamin D has multiple anti-inflammatory properties.
“In animal models, there seems to be this dual role of the impact of vitamin D on inflammation, both through its anti-inflammatory properties and through stabilizing the integrity of the lining of the intestine,” Dr. Pekow says.
More recent studies in humans are beginning to shed light on how vitamin D can help combat inflammation in Crohn’s. A study published in June 2019 in the journalGut found that vitamin D influences the activity of dendritic cells, immune cells that can mount an inflammatory response and may lead to the onset of Crohn’s. Participants in the study who received vitamin D, along with a treatment aimed at reducing levels of an inflammation-promoting protein called TNF-alpha in dendritic cells, were found to have significantly lower levels of TNF-alpha than those who received the treatment without vitamin D. These findings suggest that vitamin D can be useful not only on its own, but also to enhance the effects of certain treatments for Crohn’s.
Interestingly, a recent study published online in March 2019 in theScandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology that examined a decade’s worth of hospital admissions in Chile found that higher levels of solar radiation were associated with fewer hospital admissions for IBD. This led the authors to suggest that vitamin D deficiency may play a role in IBD flares, including in Crohn’s.
“Vitamin D is important to health, and recent research suggests an important relationship with inflammation,” says Sunanda Kane, MD, gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “Replenishing low vitamin D helps heal active mucosal inflammation in the intestines, and oral supplementation is well-absorbed and tolerated.” This was confirmed by a study published in June 2015 in theUnited European Gastroenterology Journal,which found a dose of 2000 international units (IU) per day to be effective at keeping Crohn’s in remission.
Still, she says, “There’s no relationship between low vitamin D and development of Crohn’s.”
How to Get Enough Vitamin D
The National Institutes of Health recommends that adults age 19 to 70 get 600 IU daily of vitamin D.
Sunlight is one of the best sources of vitamin D, but given how difficult it can be to get a healthy amount of sunlight, taking supplements can help manage Crohn’s-related inflammation, according to Dr. Kane. Talk to your doctor before starting on supplements.
Other ways to get optimal levels of vitamin D include:
- Fortified milk, or soy milk if you’re lactose intolerant
- Fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna
- Beef or chicken liver
- Fish oils
Of course, you’ll want to tailor that list based on your dietary preferences and which foods you can tolerate. Consider seeing a nutritionist to see what the best options are for you.
With the right foods, a little sunshine, and supplements, getting the proper amount of vitamin D is easy to manage. Your body will thank you for it.
Video: 8 Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency you need to Know
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