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Tuesday, 18 April, 2000, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Bowel disease linked to vitamin

Vitamin supplements may help Crohn's patients
Vitamin D deficiency may worsen the symptoms of Crohn's disease and similar conditions, scientists have discovered.

But is still unclear whether lack of the vitamin could be a cause, or simply an effect of the disease.

The paper, presented at a scientific conference in the US on Tuesday, is the first to demonstrate such a connection between the vitamin and the disease.

Her team genetically engineered mice so that they would develop the bowel inflammation which characterises both Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis.

Half were starved of vitamin D in their diet, while the other half were given a supplement.

The treated mice not only had less bowel inflammation, but also survived when the untreated mice started dying after only a few weeks.

Steroid Treatment

The standard treatment for inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis is through steroids, which help reduce the inflammation.

However, they can cause bleeding, and bone loss which can lead to osteoporosis later in life.

Dr Margherita Cantornas, who led the study at Penn State University in the US, said that the anti-inflammatory properties of vitamin D could allow the dosage of steroids to be reduced, cutting the side effects.

"Vitamin D deficiency is more common in people who have inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, the drugs often used to treat IBD can cause bone loss as a side effect."

The research team pointed out other factors which might suggest a link between IBD and vitamin D.

Rates of IBD are higher in North America and Northern Europe, which receive less sunlight.

Vitamin D is manufactured in the skin on exposure to sunlight and people make significantly less in area where there is less daylight.

However, a UK expert questioned whether vitamin D was the principal factor behind the high rates of Crohn's disease.

Dr Nick Thompson, a consultant gastroenterologist, carried out a study of 250 Crohn's patients and found only three who could be classed as vitamin D deficient.

He also pointed out that ricketts, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency, has virtually disappeared in recent years, while Crohn's has soared.

He added: "There may be something to vitamin D and inflammatory bowel disease, but mice aren't humans, and the model of disease they have used isn't the same."

"There is certainly scope for further research."

Dr Cantornas said that it was not necessarily the best idea for patients to rush out and start taking vitamin supplements, as the bowel of an IBD sufferer may not be able to absorb it well.

"However, for healthy people it makes sense to make sure that you are vitamin D adequate."

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21 Apr 99 | Medical notes
Crohn's Disease
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