Do you get stabbing abdominal cramps after eating a fatty meal? Does dairy or gluten cause uncomfortable gas and bloating? Are doctors unsure of the origin of your chronic constipation or diarrhea? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may have what is called Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Although changes in the diet may be helpful in many cases of IBS, research shows that vitamin D may also help those with this condition.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the large intestine. If someone is suffering from the following symptoms, then they may have IBS.
- abdominal pain, cramping, or bloating
- less pain after bowel movement
- excess gas
- diarrhea or constipation, or a little of both
- mucus in the stool
A diagnosis of IBS is usually given after testing has found that such symptoms are not related to another condition. Other conditions where such symptoms may be present include:
- inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- celiac disease
- colon cancer
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is well-known for its link to bone health. D rich foods include:
- vitamin D-fortified milk, orange juice, and yogurt
- fatty fish like tuna and salmon.
- cod liver oil
However, sunlight exposure can also provide vitamin D. Those who live in cloudy climates may have trouble doing this though. Therefore, vitamin D-rich foods and supplements may be needed for some to meet their vitamin D needs. Research suggests that just 5 to 30 minutes of sunlight twice a week can help a person meet their vitamin D needs.
Ostoeporosis is a common condition linked to vitamin D deficiency. However preliminary evidence has also linked low vitamin D to diabetes, hypertension, and glucose intolerance. Recent recommendations suggest that most adults should consume at least 600IU a day. Although, those with a low vitamin D level may require up to 4000 IU/day to help them normalize their levels.
It is important to ask your doctor for a vitamin D test at your annual visit. This is because vitamin D is not a typical test that healthcare providers include in your common annual visit lab panel. If you fail to get a vitamin D level test, then you may never know if symptoms such as weakness or bone pain could be helped with vitamin D treatment.
Vitamin D and IBS Research
A study in the European Journal of Clinical Medicine has found a possible link between vitamin D deficiency and IBS. An analysis of four observational studies and three randomized controlled trials found a link between vitamin D deficiency in IBS patients. Furthermore, high dose vitamin D supplements were found to help ease IBS symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
Even though evidence is limited, researchers suggest that anyone with IBS symptoms should get tested for vitamin D. If you have low vitamin D, you may be prescribed a Vitamin D supplement, or asked to purchase an over-the-counter softgel or liquid supplement. You can also purchase vitamin D in an absorbable cream like Maxasorb by Vita Sciences. Maxasorb comes in 1000IU or 2000IU and provides a convenient way to take your vitamin D daily.
Other Ways to Help Your IBS
In addition to keeping an eye on your vitamin D levels, there are other ways to help control your IBS symptoms.
- Increase fiber intake by adding in more whole grains like oats and quinoa, along with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Fiber can help bulk stool and make it easier to pass.
- Drink plenty of water each day to help flush waste out of your body, along with water’s other very important functions. It is especially important to increase water intake as you increase fiber intake. If you increase fiber intake without drinking enough water, this could worsen constipation symptoms in some people. An easy rule of thumb is to drink half of your body weight (in pounds) in ounces. For example, if you weigh 200 lbs, you should drink 100 ounces, or about 12 cups of fluid each day. This fluid could include:
- water or low-calorie flavored water
- unsweetened tea, hot tea, or herbal tea
- broth or boullion
- decaf coffee
- other low-calorie, low sugar drinks that do not contain caffeine or alcohol
- Exercise on a regular basis. Exercise can help promote healthy bowel movements in those who have constipation. Any movement counts, so get outside and take a walk, dance in your living room to a workout tape or to the radio, or go to the gym and join a group class. Whatever movement is fun to you, is movement that you will stick with for the long run.
- Get plenty of sleep. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each day for good health. Sleep helps your body regulate fluids, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, as well as digestion. Therefore, not enough sleep could be affecting your gut health.
- Start on a probiotic since the gut may be lacking the good bacteria it needs for healthy digestion. Ask your healthcare provider for specific brands of probiotics they may recommend. You can also check out Vita Sciences for gut health aids such as Biovia 30.
- Eliminate certain foods from your diet. These foods may vary from person to person, depending on your specific allergies or intolerances. However, some common food triggers of IBS include:
- FODMAPs, or fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols found in certain fruits, vegetables, grains, or dairy products
- gluten-containing foods such as breads, pastas, and baked goods
- gassy foods such as alcohol, carbonated beverages, or certain vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage
-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN
Mayo Clinic (November 18. 2017) “Irritable Bowel Syndrome.”
Medline Plus (accessed January 29, 2018) “Digestive Diseases.”
National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements (February 11, 2016) “Vitamin D- Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.”
Williams CE, et al. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2018;doi:10.1038/s41430-017-0064-z.