Vitamin D. Or, the “sunshine” vitamin as it’s sometimes called. If you don’t know just how important it is for your health, well, you really should. Vitamin D is essential for nearly every single working part of your body – from your heart, to your other organs (including your skin). And now it looks like it might have something to do with your digestion as well!

Vitamin D and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

Over 1.6 million Americans have some type of inflammatory bowel disease.  Conditions include Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis.

Recently at the American College of Gastroenterology’s 76th Annual Scientific Meeting, two separate studies were presented.  One study, conducted by a group from Massachusetts General Hospital, made a connection between geographical region, exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, and frequency of inflammatory bowel disease incidents.  The second study, which looked at different levels of vitamin D supplementation and its impact on Crohn’s disease, was presented by a group from the prestigious Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Study #1

The first study pooled together data that was gathered from two very large studies of nurses enrolled in the U.S. Nurses’ Health Study I and II, and found that the incidence of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis was affected significantly by the individual’s latitude location, and there was a stark north-south gradient in the United States.  While similar studies have been performed in Europe, this marks the first time such a large study was undertaken on American soil.

Analyzing the data, the researchers concluded that the average age of women with Crohn’s disease was 51, while the average woman’s age with ulcerative colitis, or UC, was 48.  Using the geographic location of each woman at age 30 as an anchor, the group of investigators found that the women who lived in the southern latitudes had a 50% lower chance of developing Crohn’s, and around 35% less of a chance to develop UC, compared to the northern latitude equivalents.

Study #2

The group of researchers from Cornell sought to determine if high doses of Vitamin D3 in patients with a deficiency would affect the outcome of each individual, and used a smaller pool of data for their study, which consisted of only 15 patients.

The patients, who all had Crohn’s disease and low baseline levels of Vitamin D, were separated into two completely randomized groups.  One group was receiving a low dose of Vitamin D, while the other group received a dosage ten times as strong.  Both groups were assessed after day one, and then again after weeks eight and 26 of treatment.  Using the widely accepted Harvey-Bradshaw Index, or HBI, to measure the severity of each patient’s symptoms, the group was able to accurately determine whether or not the patient had benefited from the Vitamin D supplements.

Results from the Cornell studies revealed that after 26 weeks of treatments, the patients who received the higher doses of Vitamin D showed significant improvement in disease activity, compared to the patients who did not receive the high doses.  Further studies are warranted, but these tests shed light on the many easily overlooked and different variables (such as vitamin D) that affect individuals and impact their chance of developing an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s or UC.

Perhaps someday vitamin D will be integral in finding a cure for these types of diseases.

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