The digestive difficulties Crohn’s creates can leave you with nutrient deficiencies. Find out about the vitamins and minerals you may need to supplement.
In addition to inflammation in the GI tract, other Crohn’s symptoms — such as decreased appetite, chronic diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, and bloating — and surgical removal of part of the intestines can all lead to nutrient deficiencies as well, necessitating dietary supplements for Crohn’s.
“As a result of these vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, you’re at a much greater risk for weight loss, anemia, muscle loss, osteoporosis, and osteomalacia (soft bones),” Wapniak said.
To make up for any nutrient deficiency, especially vitamin deficiencies, supplementation with these vitamins and other nutrients is sometimes necessary, said Ralf Jaeger, PhD, a supplement researcher at the consulting company Increnovo in Milwaukee and a member of the American Gastroenterological Association.
The Best Vitamins and Dietary Supplements for Crohn’s Disease
You’re likely to be missing certain nutrients more than others. “The main vitamins recommended for people with digestive disorders are the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K,” said Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of IBS for Dummies and a medical advisory board member of the nonprofit Nutritional Magnesium Association. “This is because they are not absorbed as quickly as water-soluble vitamins and tend to get pulled out more readily in people with diarrhea.”
Here are the vitamins and minerals you may be missing and why they’re important for you:
Vitamin B12 aids in lowering homocysteine levels and may decrease risk for heart disease. It also helps make new cells and break down fatty acids and amino acids, protects nerve cells and encourages their normal growth, and helps create red blood cells.
Folate is a B vitamin (B9), vital for new cell creation. It helps prevent brain and spine defects when taken in early pregnancy. Folate can also lower levels of homocysteine, reduce heart disease risk, possibly reduce risk for colon cancer, and help offset breast cancer risk among women who consume alcohol.
Vitamin D helps maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus which can help strengthen bones and reduce fractures. “The main supplement source of vitamin D is cod liver oil,” Dr. Dean said.
Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing unstable molecules that can damage cells. “If you take vitamin E as a supplement, make sure it is mixed with tocopherols with both alpha and gamma fractions,” advised Dean. Check the supplement label to make sure it lists alpha-tocopherol, considered the most beneficial form.
Vitamin K activates proteins and calcium essential to blood clotting, and it may help prevent hip fractures.
Vitamin A is important for vision, keeping tissues and skin healthy, and bone growth. The main supplement source of vitamin A is cod liver oil.
Magnesium assists in many chemical reactions in the body and works with calcium in muscle contraction, blood clotting, and regulation of blood pressure. It also helps build bones and teeth.
Zinc helps form many enzymes and proteins and helps create new cells. It’s also necessary for taste, smell, and wound healing.
Calcium builds and protects bones and teeth, helps with muscle contractions and relaxation, and plays a role in hormone secretion and activation, nerve impulse transmission, and blood clotting. It also helps maintain healthy blood pressure.
Potassium is important for balancing fluids in the body. It also helps maintain a steady heartbeat, sends nerve impulses necessary for muscle contractions, and may lower blood pressure.
Other ways to boost your nutritional health include:
Probiotics: “Consuming probiotics has been shown to restore the balance of the gut micro flora, thereby supporting healthy immune functions and digestive health,” Dr. Jaeger said.
Fish oil: A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that intake of fish oil may help keep people with Crohn’s disease in remission.
Protein: If you have muscle loss, your physician or dietitian may recommend protein as a dietary supplement.
Safely Taking Dietary Supplements for Crohn’s
Dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it’s important to use them with caution.
“You shouldn’t use a vitamin or supplement to address an issue directly related to an illness, especially one that may result in changes in absorption patterns of nutrients, without guidance from a health care professional,” Jaeger said. “Ask your physician to recommend a dietitian who is familiar with Crohn’s disease.”
In addition to providing advice and dosages for the vitamins and other supplements you might need, a good registered dietitian can help you learn to manage your disease during times of inflammation and remission.
“A dietitian will help create individualized meal plans, including foods that will reduce inflammation and irritation of the GI tract while providing optimal nutrition to help prevent vitamin deficiencies and nutrient deficiencies,” Wapniak said. “A dietitian can also help you stay up-to-date on the newest research relating to vitamins and dietary supplements for Crohn’s.”
Remember, regular checkups with your Crohn’s doctor are important, not only to discuss dietary supplements for Crohn’s, but also to make sure you feel well and have your Crohn’s well under control.