Higher doses of vitamin D may cure TB, say researchers

Higher doses of vitamin D given along with antibiotic treatment may help patients suffering from tuberculosis (TB) recover much faster.

The study investigated the effects of vitamin D on the immune responses of patients receiving treatment for an infectious disease.

Led by Dr Adrian Martineau from Queen Mary, University of London, UK, the research team revealed that high doses of the sunshine vitamin can dampen down the body’s inflammatory response to infection, enabling patients to recover faster, with less damage to their lungs.

Martineau said: “These findings are very significant. They indicate that vitamin D may have a role in accelerating resolution of inflammatory responses in tuberculosis patients.

“This is important, because sometimes these inflammatory responses can cause tissue damage leading to the development of cavities in the lung. If we can help these cavities to heal more quickly, then patients should be infectious for a shorter period of time, and they may also suffer less lung damage”.

The researchers said that in the past – before antibiotics became openly available – sunshine was the key treatment for tuberculosis as patients were often sent to Swiss clinics to soak up the sun’s healing rays.

Perhaps now, for the first time, the team believe they have shown how and why such ‘light therapy’ might have helped patients with TB, and could help people with other conditions too.

Martineau added: “More broadly, the ability of vitamin D to dampen down inflammatory responses without compromising the actions of antibiotics raises the possibility that supplementation might also have benefits in patients receiving antimicrobial therapy for pneumonia, sepsis and other lung infections”.

Martineau and his co-workers randomised 95 TB patients who were receiving standard antibiotic treatment into two groups for the first eight weeks of their treatment, 44 received additional high dose vitamin D while 51 received a placebo.

Levels of inflammatory markers in blood samples were taken from the patients and researchers had carried out statistical analyses to decide the effects that vitamin D had on the immune response.

Dr Anna Coussens, who also worked on the research, said: “We found that a large number of these inflammatory markers fell further and faster in patients receiving vitamin D”.

The team discovered that Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the bacterium that causes TB) was cleared from patients who consumed vitamin D much faster. The process took just little over three weeks to become undetectable under the microscope than over a month in the patients who took the placebo.

Nevertheless, Martineau insisted that it may be yet too early for patients to be recommended to take high-dose vitamin D along with standard antibiotics for the disease and said that more research is needed before they can recommend patients.

He added: “We are hoping to do more work to evaluate the effects of higher doses and different forms of vitamin D to see if they have a more dramatic effect”.


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