SHEFFIELD, England, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Scientists have found an association between vitamin D levels and severity of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms in a new study, suggesting the condition could be treated with a supplement, they said.
The new study, conducted at the University of Sheffield, found most IBS patients have insufficient levels of vitamin D.
Vitamin D has been used by many IBS patients to help control the condition, including one of the researchers in the study, Vicky Grant, who has been using it for five years since learning about it in the "online patient community."
"IBS is a poorly understood condition which impacts severely on the quality of life of sufferers," said Dr. Bernard Corfe, a researcher at the University of Sheffield, in a press release. "There is no single known cause and likewise no single known cure. 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."
Researchers in the study, published in the British Medical Journal, found 82 percent of 51 patients in a study had deficient levels of the vitamin.
Based on previous studies showing the benefits of probiotics on IBS, and anecdotal evidence on vitamin D collected as part of a previous study on a single patient's experience using the supplement, the researchers randomized participants in the study to receive either a vitamin D supplement and probiotic, vitamin D and probiotic placebo, or double placebo for 12 weeks.
At the end of the study, patients who received the vitamin supplement, with or without probiotics, showed improvement in vitamin D levels and IBS symptoms.
While the study showed the supplement may help, Grant said she was initially doubtful about the treatment and that it may not work for all patients because IBS is often common with other disorders and diseases.
"Our data provide a potential new insight into the condition and importantly a new way to try to manage it," Corfe said. "It was clear from our findings that many people with IBS should have their vitamin D levels tested, and the data suggests that they may benefit from supplementation with vitamin D. As a result of this exploratory study, we're now able to design and justify a larger and more definitive clinical trial."