A person holds pharmaceutical tablets and capsules in this picture illustration taken in Ljubljana September 18, 2013 Reuters/Zrdjan Zivulovic

Low vitamin D levels have been linked with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by researchers from the University of Sheffield. The researchers also found that the vitamin D status reflected the sufferer's perceived quality of life.

Out of 51 patients with IBS studied, 82 percent exhibited insufficient vitamin D levels. IBS is a chronic functional disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that affects around nine to 23 percent of people worldwide. In Australia alone, the Victoria State Government said that one in five Australians experience the unpleasant symptoms of IBS that includes abdominal pain, mucus in the stool and alternating diarrhea and constipation. The cause is still unknown but diet and stress have been speculated as risk factors.

Some scientists think that people with IBS stay indoors more and eat less, hence the low levels of vitamin D. However, there have been speculations about low vitamin D levels as risk factor for developing IBS. One of the medications to manage IBS blocks tumor-necrosis factor (TNF) production, an inflammatory protein which vitamin D reduces. Therefore, vitamin D may be a natural way to block TNF and decrease inflammation in the digestive tract.

“IBS is a poorly understood condition which impacts severely on the quality of life of sufferers. There is no single known cause and likewise no single known cure,” lead researcher Bernard Corfe, from the University’s Molecular Gastroenterology Research Group, said in a press release. “Clinicians and patients currently have to work together and use trial and error to manage the condition and this may take years with no guarantee of success.”

This new data provides a potential new insight into IBS and more importantly, a new way to try to manage the condition, according to Corfe. This also suggests that people with IBS may benefit from vitamin D supplementation. As a result, the researchers are now able to design and justify a larger and more definitive clinical trial.

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