Don't Let Vitamin D Level Dip If You Have Bowel Disease
April 18, 2000 -- People with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, two
types of inflammatory bowel disease, may have worse symptoms if don't get
enough vitamin D, animal studies suggest.
Research presented this week at an experimental biology meeting showed that
mice genetically engineered to develop inflammatory bowel disease had more
symptoms and more intestinal damage if they were also deprived of vitamin D. A
special vitamin D supplement prevented much of the damage -- but experts warn
that too much vitamin D can also be dangerous.
Margherita T. Cantorna, PhD, and colleagues from Penn State University
report that the mice with inflammatory bowel disease became much sicker if they
did not get enough vitamin D because the vitamin appears to tame some of the
immune cells that otherwise run wild and damage the tissues of the
"We can say that there may be clinical benefit from making certain that
patients with inflammatory bowel disease are not deficient in vitamin D,"
Cantorna tells WebMD. Cantorna is assistant professor of nutrition at the Penn
State University College of Health and Human Development in University
Cantorna's group genetically engineered mice to develop symptoms resembling
inflammatory bowel disease at a very early age. The mice that were kept
deficient in vitamin D developed severe intestinal damage and died a short time
later. Those that were given supplemental vitamin D fared well, and none of
Some mice were also treated with a special high-potency preparation of
vitamin D. This greatly reduced the amount of intestinal damage in the mice
with inflammatory bowel disease. Cantorna tells WebMD that the experimental
supplement is too toxic to be used to treat humans who have inflammatory bowel
disease because it can cause severe problems with calcium metabolism. Her group
is currently working on research they hope will lead to the development of a
safer version of the high-potency vitamin D.
If you have inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn's disease, Cantorna
recommends having your physician check your vitamin D levels regularly, because
many people with these digestive problems do have vitamin D deficiency.
"Vitamin D supplementation is not something to try at home," she
says. "Because of the risk of side effects, it should be done only under
- A study on mice shows that a deficiency in vitamin D can aggravate the
symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
- Many people with digestive problems have a vitamin D deficiency, and a
physician can easily check this with a lab test.
- Those who want to take vitamin D supplements should do so only under the
supervision of a doctor, because too much vitamin D can be harmful.