Vitamins for Crohn's Disease

During flares, you may not be able to eat much healthy food, or anything else. And your body won’t absorb nutrients well.  Taking vitamins can ease your mind and give your body what it needs.     

Your doctor can tell you which ones you're short on based on how Crohn's affects your body and what drugs you take.

Your Diet

Crohn's makes it harder to nourish yourself. This can make you feel run-down and sick. And it can keep your medication from working well. It can stop kids from growing normally, too.

You may not get enough nutrients because:

  • Your gut is inflamed or damaged. It's hard to absorb carbohydrates, fats, water, and many vitamins and minerals from food. Surgery for Crohn's can also cause this problem if too much of your small intestine is removed.
  • You have no desire to eat. This can happen because of pain, diarrhea, anxiety, and changes in taste. As a result, you don't eat enough.
  • You take Crohn's drugs. Some make it harder to absorb nutrients.
  • You have bleeding inside your body. This can lead to anemia, which can lower your iron levels.

Nutrients You May Be Missing

With Crohn's, you are more likely to have lower levels of:

  • Vitamin B12. If you've had surgery in the lower part of your small intestine, you may not absorb enough of this. You can get a B12 vitamin, injection, or nasal spray.
  • Folic acid. Some Crohn's drugs, like methotrexate and sulfasalazine, lower levels of folic acid in your body. Try a daily 1-milligram dose of a folate supplement.
  • Calcium. Steroids for Crohn's disease can weaken bones and make it hard to absorb this key mineral. If your body can't digest milk or milk products, you're even more likely to be short on calcium. Up to half of people with Crohn's have thinning bones. Taking extra supplements -- often 1,500 milligrams of calcium a day -- will help keep bones strong and prevent other problems.
  • Vitamin D. It helps your body absorb calcium for strong bones, but people with Crohn's disease often don’t have enough. Your doctor may suggest a daily supplement of 800 international units.
  • Vitamins A, E, and K. Surgery can make it hard for your body to absorb fats. That lowers your levels of these vitamins.
  • Iron. It's the best treatment for anemia from blood loss in your intestines. Your doctor may tell you to take iron tablets, liquid, or infusions.
  • Potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Your doctor may suggest a daily supplement to raise your levels.

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Foods or Supplements?

Almost any diet expert will tell you it's better to get vitamins and minerals from foods than from a pill.

For some people with Crohn's disease, that's not possible. Certain healthy foods, like high-fiber nuts and seeds, may trigger their symptoms.

Crohn's, especially when it's active, can make your body work harder. You may need more calories and nutrients than other people. In these cases, vitamin supplements can help fill the gaps.

If you think you're lactose intolerant and can’t digest dairy, ask your doctor to test you for it. You may be able to enjoy dairy foods if you take lactase pills.

Work With Your Doctor

While supplements may be a good idea for you, don't decide by yourself. Talk to your doctor first. Some can affect the way your Crohn's drugs work or make your symptoms worse. 

He may want to test your levels of iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and other vitamins and minerals. What you need may also depend on where the damage is in your small intestine. 

Together, you can decide which supplements may help you feel your best.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on November 24, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

ASPEN Nutrition Support Patient Education Manual: "Nutrition and Crohn's Disease."

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: "What Are the Complications of Crohn's Disease?"

Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America: "Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)," "Diet and Nutrition."

Medscape: "Vitamin D Intake Associated with Reduced Risk of Crohn's Disease."

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: "Ulcerative Colitis."

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