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UMass Chan study finds majority of children with irritable bowel syndrome are low on vitamin D

Pediatric endocrinologist Benjamin Nwosu calls for monitoring and supplementing vitamin D in pediatric IBS patients

  Benjamin U. Nwosu, MD

Benjamin U. Nwosu, MD

Cramps, bloating, diarrhea and constipation—these are the uncomfortable symptoms that can make life miserable for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, including as many as one in six children. Though not a disease that damages the intestinal tract, IBS is still a disabling functional disorder, meaning it is a group of unexplained symptoms that occur together.

Now a new study Benjamin U. Nwosu, MD, has found more that 90 percent of preteens and teenagers with IBS are deficient in Vitamin D, adding another concern for patients. Vital for overall health, adequate Vitamin D is essential for children’s growing bones.

Published in PLOS ONE on Feb. 13, the findings from the first-of-its-kind study by Dr. Nwosu, associate professor of pediatrics, point to monitoring and supplementing Vitamin D in children with the disorder. IBS symptoms are reported by 14 percent of high school students and 6 percent of middle schoolers.

“I was surprised that IBS had the highest prevalence of vitamin D deficiency of all the gastrointestinal disorders we studied in the past five years,” said Nwosu. “The primary finding from this study is that one out of every two pediatric patients with IBS has vitamin D deficiency compared to one out of every four healthy children and adolescents without IBS. The importance of this study was to initiate the first steps in the critical assessment of the role of vitamin D as an adjunctive therapy in children and adolescents with IBS.”

Analysis of the medical records of 55 children with IBS compared to those of 116 healthy controls confirmed that more than 90 percent of the subjects with IBS had vitamin D deficiency. This prevalence of vitamin D deficiency is also much higher compared to children with irritable bowel disease and other malabsorption syndromes, including celiac disease and lactose intolerance, which have been characterized in prior studies by Nwosu and co-investigators.

The study further investigated the relationship between vitamin D status and the presence of anxiety, depression and migraine headaches that often accompany IBS. Patients with IBS and migraine had significantly lower Vitamin D than controls, suggesting that Vitamin D supplementation might improve their headache symptoms.

Nwosu calls for randomized controlled trials to determine the effects of optimal vitamin D supplementation on the various symptoms of IBS.

Further research into bone mass in children with IBS is also urgently needed, but clinicians can act in the meantime.

“With more than 90 percent of children with IBS being vitamin D deficient, they are definitely at risk for decreased bone mass,” he said. “Clinicians should immediately increase their surveillance for vitamin D deficiency in patients with IBS and initiate appropriate vitamin D supplementation in cases of deficiency. Future research studies will explore the effect of vitamin D deficiency on bone mass and other associated pathologies in IBS. This paper strengthens the case for a vitamin D screening and supplementation protocol for all patients with IBS.”

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