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Vitamin D Reduces Relapse in Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease is one of two inflammatory bowel conditions that affect the intestinal lining. The other is ulcerative colitis. The exact cause of these conditions is not known for certain. Both illnesses are thought to have a genetic component. Other contributing factors have been implicated, including food allergies, stress, poor nutrition, and infection. It is also believed that an "autoimmune response," where the immune system attacks the body's own tissue as though it were a foreign invader, may play a role in Crohn's disease. Although Crohn's disease is sometimes mistaken for ulcerative colitis, it has several unique features. Crohn's disease most commonly affects the small or large intestine, while ulcerative colitis shows up in the lower intestine and the rectum. Ulcerative colitis is more common than Crohn's disease, but the incidence of Crohn's appears to be on the rise. Although these conditions hit the gastrointestinal tract hardest, they can lead to many other conditions affecting different parts of the body.

Vitamin D is known as the "sunshine" vitamin because it is formed in the body by the action of the sun's ultraviolet rays on the skin. The fat-soluble vitamin is converted in the kidneys to the hormone calcitrol, which is actually the most active form of vitamin D. The effects of this hormone are targeted at the intestines and bones. Decreased vitamin D intake along with not enough sunlight exposure can cause a vitamin D deficiency. Other causes could be inadequate absorption and impaired conversion of vitamin D into its active form. When vitamin D deficiency occurs, bone mineralization is impaired which leads to bone loss. Rickets, osteomalacia, osteoporosis, crohn’s disease and cancer are associated with vitamin D deficiency.

A recent study sought to assess the effectiveness of vitamin D to reduce Crohn’s disease relapse rates. The randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study included 108 patients with Crohn’s disease who were in remission. The patients were randomized to receive either 1,200 IU of oral vitamin D3 or placebo once daily for 12 months. The results revealed that the relapse rate was lower in the patients receiving vitamin D3 than in the placebo group. By the end of the study, only 13 percent of Crohn’s disease patients receiving vitamin D3 suffered a relapse while 29 percent of patients in the placebo group experienced a relapse. These results suggest that increasing serum vitamin D levels with oral vitamin D3 supplements may be a useful treatment to prevent relapses in patients with Crohn’s disease.1

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This article was published on Thursday September 30, 2010.
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1 Jorgensen SP, Agnholt J, Glerup H, et al. Clinical trial: vitamin D3 treatment in Crohn's disease - a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2010.