Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common disorder in the modern world, affecting around 12 percent of people in the United States and other developed countries. Although it is believed to be autoimmune-related, in which the immune system attacks parts of the large intestine, doctors and scientists have little idea of how to treat it. As a result, many people are left with uncomfortable and even painful symptoms that are difficult to effectively treat. However, there is growing evidence that vitamin D for IBS may soothe many of the symptoms of this disorder. Could lifestyle changes and supplements be the answer that people are seeking?
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Is modern life making you sick to your stomach? This is an important question for the growing number of people in the developed world that suffer from IBS. Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder that involves mainly the large intestine. People who have this disorder suffer from abdominal pain and cramping, flatulence, bloating and nausea. In addition, they may have diarrhea, constipation or alternating bouts of both. Most people with IBS have mild or moderate symptoms, with severe cases rare. However, even mild symptoms can be annoying and interfere with one's ability to lead a normal life. In fact, IBS sufferers miss three times as many days at work as people who do not have the disorder.
There are multiple factors believed to cause or contribute to IBS. In addition to possible immune system attacks on the large intestine, imbalances in the natural flora of the intestine also appear to play a role. Other scientists have suggested that the problem is more mechanical, involving disordered muscular contractions or neurological supply to the area. Because there is no clear cause of IBS, there is no clear treatment. However, lifestyle changes, special diets and stress management can all be effective to some degree.
New Research on Vitamin D for IBS
Prior studies have found that people with IBS are more likely to have low vitamin D levels than the rest of the population. According to Dr. Bernard Corfe, professor at the University of Sheffield's Department of Oncology and Metabolism, supplementing vitamin D may be key to reducing symptoms and improving quality of life. Dr. Corfe recently looked at the effects of vitamin D for IBS sufferers. His team performed an analysis of all known existing research looking at IBS and this vitamin. They found that not only is IBS linked to low vitamin D, but that taking a vitamin D supplement can actually reduce the symptoms of this illness.
Dr. Corfe and his research team acknowledge that more research will be needed before vitamin D is a formally recommended treatment. However, it appears clear that people with IBS should talk to their doctor about vitamin D testing and supplementation.
Vitamin D and Overall Health
IBS is not the only autoimmune disease linked to low vitamin D levels. Although this vitamin is best known for its role in strengthening bones, it also is crucial in modulating the immune system. Recent studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to a variety of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Low levels of this nutrient also have been linked to several types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer.
However, vitamin D deficiency is becoming more common. Much of our vitamin D comes not from food and supplements, but from the sun. People are more likely than ever to cover up or wear sunscreen; in addition, most people no longer work outside. Many doctors recommend taking a vitamin D supplement to make up for a lack of sources of natural vitamin D in modern life. You should not just take vitamin D for IBS, but for whole-body health.
Natural Ways to Treat IBS
Modern medicine has not yet developed a definitive treatment or cure for IBS. However, there are several lifestyle changes that can make a meaningful difference in both symptoms and their severity.
- Consider taking a vitamin D supplement to address any deficiencies of this nutrient.
- Take peppermint oil or drink peppermint tea, both of which have been shown to reduce IBS symptoms.
- Consider taking an anti-histamine such as Claritin. Histamines appear to be involved in IBS flares, so these medications can help.
- Eat more fiber, which can be helpful for both diarrhea and constipation.
- Consider following the low FODMAP diet, which reduces foods believed to irritate the intestines in IBS sufferers.
- Take a probiotic supplement to help build and maintain healthy gut flora.
- Find ways to reduce stress. Both yoga and antidepressant medications have been shown to alleviate the symptoms of IBS.
No one should have to live with the pain and inconvenience of constant gastrointestinal trouble. Although researchers are still looking for a cure for irritable bowel syndrome, there are several natural ways to manage the symptoms and reduce the pain. As with many diseases, healthy lifestyle is the key to prevention and management.