Dec. 22, 2015 -- About 8 in 10 people with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) also have low vitamin D levels, according to a small British study.
Although these are early results, researchers say that in the future, people with the disease might benefit from vitamin D screening tests and supplements.
The vitamin is essential for the body, including for healthy bones. We get some of it from food, but most of it is made in the skin after we get sunlight.
Most people should be able to get all the D they need from sunlight and a balanced diet. But up to a quarter of the population has low levels of the vitamin in their blood.
Although the condition is common, the exact cause is still unknown. Diet may play a role, as well as problems with the speed at which food moves through the digestive system.
Psychological factors, such as stress, may trigger IBS symptoms for some people.
Although many don't get treated for their symptoms, it’s thought to be the reason for between 20% to 40% of gastroenterologist visits. Doctors can diagnose it based on someone's symptoms, but they often need to do other tests to rule out other conditions.
New IBS study
Fifty-one people with IBS participated. Blood tests found 82% of them had low vitamin D levels.
Those with low D also said they had less quality of life than those with higher levels of the vitamin.
Participants were randomly given D supplements, a placebo tablet, or a combination of vitamin D and probiotics to take for 12 weeks. Patients and researchers didn't know who was taking which tablet until the results were analyzed.
The researchers weren't able to report a significant improvement in IBS among those taking supplements. This could be due to the small number of people taking part in the study, and the relatively short trial length. The researchers want to do a bigger trial to aim for more definitive results.
The study is in the journal BMJ Open Gastroenterology. The researchers received funding from a supplement maker.
"Our work has shown that most IBS sufferers in our trial had insufficient levels of vitamin D,” lead scientist Bernard Corfe says in a statement.
"It was clear from our findings that many people with IBS should have their vitamin D levels tested."
Talk to your doctor if you have IBS and think your levels might be low.