Vitamin D Deficiency in IBD Patients

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Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in bone growth and reducing inflammation. Vitamin D can be found in some foods, but it is also known as the "sunshine vitamin" because it is synthesized by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight.

For people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), skin cancer is a serious concern, which is why limiting time in the sun is recommended. Fortunately, the sun is not the only way to get enough vitamin D. For those who have been told they are deficient in vitamin D, or who suspect they are, getting vitamin D levels tested is important. After any deficiency is found, a physician can make a recommendation on how much vitamin D supplementation is needed. It can take some time to reverse a deficiency, and a physician can give a recommendation as to how much vitamin D to take, for how long, and what form would be best (such as liquid or capsules). 

People With IBD May Lack Vitamin D

People who have IBD may have a vitamin D deficiency. Dietary fat is necessary in order for vitamin D to be absorbed and used by the body. Fat is poorly absorbed by people with active inflammation in the small intestine, such as that caused by Crohn's disease. Vitamin D is needed for calcium to be absorbed by the body. Prednisone, which is sometimes taken by people who have IBD, can interfere with the absorption of calcium, decreasing body's ability to use vitamin D. Also, people who are too ill to go outside may not get any Vitamin D from the sun.

Where Vitamin D Is Found

Vitamin D, as well as calcium, is found in fortified milk but this is not an option for those who are lactose intolerant, allergic to milk, or who avoid milk products. Just going out in the sun could provide some of this essential vitamin—and most people get their vitamin D this way—but it is still poorly absorbed by the small intestine by those with active small bowel Crohn's disease. People who don't receive vitamin D from these sources may need to think about other ways to receive enough and to involve a physician or dietician when the problem is complex.

Severe Vitamin D Deficiencies

A severe deficiency of vitamin D could lead to osteomalacia, or in the case of children, rickets. Literally, osteomalacia means "soft bones," and people with this condition are susceptible to bone fractures. The usual course of treatment is to supplement the diet with both calcium and vitamin D, and avoid the use of corticosteroids when possible. Therapy with other drugs may also be necessary, depending on the severity of bone density loss.

Supplements and Foods With Vitamin D

People with IBD may need supplements in order to maintain the proper level of vitamin D. Regular monitoring may also be needed in order to track vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D can be found in these food sources:

  • Butter and fortified margarine
  • Eggs
  • Fish liver oils
  • Fortified milk and milk powder
  • Liver
  • Some fortified cereals

Check with your doctor or nutritionist about vitamin and mineral supplements if you are concerned about these, or any other, deficiencies.

A Word From Verywell

Staying out of the sun is important for people with IBD because skin cancer is a risk. That's why it's important to have a vitamin D level assessment and to find out if any supplements are needed. For people that live in temperate or northern climates, it's a fair bet that a vitamin D supplement is a good idea. However, it's important to talk to a doctor to find out how much vitamin D is needed and how often.

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