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Dear Dr Cannell: Vitamin D and Crohn’s

Posted on: October 22, 2011   by  John Cannell, MD


Dear Dr. Cannell:

I had Crohn’s Disease for 10 years, from 2000 – 2010. I suffered frequent relapses over the years including two stints in hospital. I was on many types of medication. I found that diet had no role in this disease so gave up on that quite early. Yeah I tried them all, no wheat, cut out caffeine, cut out certain foods and spices, but this did not make a difference at all.

After Melbourne had it coldest and wettest winter in many years I had a bad relapse in August last year. Prior to this, I was in remission with some signs of Crohn’s disease but nothing serious. However, as the winter progressed, the worse my Crohn’s became and I ended up in hospital. Blood test showed I was extremely low in Vitamin D and doctors put me on 3000 IU per day as I was on steroids. It suddenly occurred to me why I had Crohn’s and all the patterns of this disease fitted the vitamin D theory in this disease.

  1. Most of my relapses occurred towards of winter.
  2. I work indoors with little exposure to sunlight especially in winter.
  3. I played lawn bowls in summer and my Crohn’s was less active during this period.
  4. Exception this was during the summer when I started on Imuran, which increased sensitivity to sunlight so I avoided the sun, and splash sun-cream all over.
  5. I have fair skin and easily got sun burnt so I rarely ventured into the sun.

Could Crohn’s disease be caused by vitamin D deficiency? Was my low vitamin D at end of winter the cause of Crohn’s? This brought back memories of a quote my gastrologist said to me. The quote was “Crohn’s appears to be most active in spring for most people and could be due to allergens” but he was very unsure and had no concrete evidence to support his theory.

After I came out from hospital, I threw away the 6-mp and just stayed on the Vitamin D and weaned myself off the prednisolone over the following 8 weeks. To my surprise, I noticed that my Crohn’s was starting to disappear and my bowels were coming back to normal. My energy levels were increasing and I was less tired. I noticed that my skin’s legions were clearing up also. After approximately 6 months on vitamin D at 3000 IU per day my Crohn’s had completely disappeared and the best thing of all for the first time in 10 years I had normal health.

I even surprised my gastrologist who was skeptical at first but after examining me and reviewing the blood tests he realized I had no signs at all of Crohn’s disease, I could see his amazement in his eyes and I told him about the Vitamin D. He told me not to come back unless I had a relapse. So far, so good. It’s been almost 12 months and still no signs of Crohn’s disease. I thank vitamin D.

Kind Regards,
James Richmond
Victoria Australia


Dear James:

That is great news. As you may know, several clinical trials are in various stages of completion:


Almost 600,000 people in the USA suffer from Crohn’s disease, and I have written about it before. Several studies have shown very low vitamin D levels in people with inflammatory bowel disease, but the experts opined that was simply due to poor intestinal absorption of vitamin D. I have always thought it possible that the opposite is also true; that low vitamin D exacerbates the disease. Vitamin D deficiency impairs the barrier function of the intestine (keeping bad stuff out).

Your observations are very important and are evidence vitamin D plays an important role in your disease. Time will tell if that is true for the majority of sufferers.

A recent study correlated disease activity to vitamin D levels, the lower the level the more active the disease. Such studies, correlations of disease activity with vitamin D levels, are evidence, but not proof, vitamin D is involved in the etiology (cause) of the disease.

Ulitsky A et al.Vitamin D deficiency in patients with inflammatory bowel disease: association with disease activity and quality of life. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2011 May;35(3):308-16.

I think your dosage is somewhat conservative and would increase to 5,000 IU per day if your 25(OH)D level is below 40 ng/ml. Be sure to check your blood level.

2 Responses to Dear Dr Cannell: Vitamin D and Crohn’s

  1. Ian

    You were so lucky that your hospital physicians tested your vitamin D levels and then treated you for a deficiency. Compliments to you for following it through. This testing should be routine in hospital admissions.

  2. [email protected]

    The impact of low vit D levels on bowel function is dramatic! I was diagnosed with diverticulosis and had regular (as in every 4-6 weeks) bouts of diverticulitis requiring me to take two types of antibiotics. I was taking two tablespoons of psyllium a day as well as as much fibre-rich food as I could stomach, I drank lots of water and took a magnesium supplement but nothing could prevent these debilitating bouts of illness when I was laid up for a few days with all over joint pain, bowel pain, exhaustion and feeling like I had a very bad flu and was only avoiding hospital due to being determined not to be admitted! Like James, I was fortunate enough to have a GP who tests for vitamin D deficiency and he found my levels were in the insufficiency range at 46 nmol/l. He didn’t test due to my chronic diverticulitis, just to be on the safe side. I commenced on 3,000 iu a day – couldn’t believe the difference within weeks! Over the past 30 months I have only had one bout of bowel trouble! It simply doesn’t happen any more! Again, like James, my bowel function has returned to normal – better than normal, given the number of years I was deficient!! I believe it was once I started working five days a week inside in an office in 1991. Before before that I was outside a lot during the day. I had noticed weakness in my legs and thought it was old age – had a few falls even! Not any more!!! Wonderful, wonderful vitamin D!
    Annette Marslen
    Gippsland, Victoria, Australia

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