Right now, it's too early to say if vitamin D deficiency causes IBS, or if people with some of these symptoms like frequent bloating, but not full-blown IBS, are also more likely to be low in vitamin D. But there is good reason to believe that increasing vitamin D levels will improve general bowel health, says study coauthor Bernard Corfe, PhD, as previous research shows that conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer are also associated with low D levels.
One possible explanation for this nutrient's effect on your gut is that there are vitamin D receptors located throughout the colon that help regulate bowel inflammation and not getting enough could interfere with that. Vitamin D also seems to play a role in the production of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin, which may be why people with IBS are also more likely to be depressed and rate quality of life as low.
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Currently, the Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get 600 IU of vitamin D every day, but it won't hurt to supplement with more. Many doctors think that number is far too low and recommend anywhere from 1,500 to 4,000 IU (participants in the study were given 3,000 IU) for optimal health. If you want to see exactly where your levels lie, ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test.
What you should do right now: "This study suggests that upping vitamin D intake via sun exposure, supplements, and food may help remedy certain symptoms for those with IBS and promote good general bowel health for the average person," says Corfe. So, while not a guarantee, the following diet and lifestyle changes may play a key role in getting you some much-needed relief. (Read more about the surprising reason you're short on vitamin D.)
1. Up your intake of vitamin D–rich foods
Think fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna; eggs; liver; mushrooms; and fortified foods like yogurt, milk, almond milk, and cereals. These strategic dietary tweaks will get you closer to optimal vitamin D levels—a 3-ounce fillet of salmon alone packs 447 IU—but diet alone may still not be enough if your levels are low. (Check out these 17 surprising ways to get more vitamin D via food.)
2. Consider a supplement
Because most people are low in vitamin D and medical experts agree that the recommended daily intake is on the low side, supplementing is smart—especially during winter months when you're not synthesizing your own vitamin D via sunshine. Look for vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and aim for at least 1,500 IU per day. (Here are the 10 worst things that can happen when you don't get enough vitamin D.)
3. Get some sun
In warmer months, sunlight is your best source of vitamin D and going outside for about 10 minutes in the midday sun in shorts and a T-shirt or tank top (without sunscreen—seriously, it's OK for this short amount of time) will allow you to produce about 10,000 IU—exceeding your daily quota. This isn't possible in the winter, because the sun doesn't get high enough in the sky for its UVB rays to penetrate the atmosphere, so stick to the two tips above.
This article was originally published by our partners at Prevention.