Why Vitamin D is Critical for Digestive Health
Recent research into colitis, a painful inflammatory condition of the colon, showed that it could be caused by a lack of vitamin D. This allows an imbalance of flora to develop in the gastrointestinal tract causing inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease.
Colitis is a serious and painful condition. The inflammation of the lining of the colon can cause diarrhea and abdominal pain. Ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune illness similar to Crohn’s disease, is another inflammatory bowel disease possibly connected to vitamin D deficiency.
Colitis is known to be caused primarily by infections, viruses, bacteria, food poisoning and parasites in the gut. These develop when good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract are low and are unable to keep these infections at bay. Causes of low gut flora include stress, taking antibiotic medicines which kill gut bacteria, and drinking excessive alcohol. However, no one has previously made a connection between a lack of vitamin D and the presence of these colitis-causing bacteria and infections.
Vitamin D and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
A study by the University of Toronto investigated whether vitamin D deficiency could be implicated in the development of Crohn's disease and similar inflammatory diseases of the bowel. They found a positive association between lack of vitamin D and a corresponding lack of good bacteria in the gut (dysbiosis) in those diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
Two further studies looked at the same issues. The first study, based on information supplied by the U.S. Nurses’ Health Study I and II, found that there was a much higher incidence of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in those who lived in the northern states. The lower levels of sunshine mean lower levels of vitamin D, which the body produces naturally when sunlight falls on the skin. The study found that women who lived in the southern states during their 30s were 50% less likely to develop Crohn’s disease in later life, and 35% less likely to suffer from colitis.
The second study by Cornell looked at whether the symptoms in patients already diagnosed with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s could be improved with vitamin D supplements. After 26 weeks, those given higher doses of vitamin D showed an improvement in their symptoms, compared to those on a lower dose.
Researchers conclude that vitamin D can keep gut flora healthy and balanced, which in turn improves conditions for those with inflammatory bowel diseases.