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Research study: Vitamin D and IBD

A recent five-year study of 965 patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease has shown that 30% had low vitamin D levels. These patients had greater disease activity, requiring more frequent steroid courses, greater use of strong analgesics (painkillers), poorer quality of life and almost double the risk for needing surgery.

The University of Pittsburgh study, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, showed that patients who received appropriate vitamin D replacement had substantially fewer problems.

The latest advice from Public Health England is that children and adults over the age of one should have 10 micrograms (400 international units) of vitamin D every day.

From about late March/April to the end of September, most people should be able to get all the vitamin D we need from sunlight on our skin. The vitamin is made by our body under the skin in reaction to sunlight. However, during the winter months vitamin D deficiency is common and the recommendation is to eat foods high in vitamin D including oily fish, eggs, cheese, red meat or take a supplement.

This advice is based on recommendations from the government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) following its review of the evidence on vitamin D and health (pdf, 4.2Mb).

This confirms that patients with Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis tend to have a more aggressive course of their disease if they are vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D has important roles in the maintenance of a healthy immune system in addition to its well-known importance for bone development. Rates of vitamin D deficiency as high as 70% have been reported in Inflammatory Bowel Disease patients and people living in northern Europe, including the UK, are likely to be particularly at risk. There now seems to be a very strong case for all patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease to have their blood vitamin D levels checked at least once per year and to take appropriate supplementation if the level is found to be low.

Jonathan Rhodes
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, University of Liverpool and Chair of our Medical Awards Panel in 2015

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