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Vitamin D may speed up tuberculosis recovery

May 9, 2013

According to a new study from the UK, high-dose supplements of vitamin D given alongside antibiotic treatment appear to help patients recover more quickly from the infectious lung disease tuberculosis.

In the randomized controlled trial, 95 tuberculosis patients who were on standard antibiotics received either a high dose of vitamin D or a placebo for the first eight weeks of treatment (1). Measuring signs of inflamma-tion in blood samples to see what effect the vitamin D had on immune responses, the researchers found that a large number of these inflammatory markers fell further and faster in patients receiving vitamin D. The researchers also found that Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, cleared from the phlegm coughed up from deep in the lungs faster in patients taking vitamin D, than those taking a placebo. For the former, it took an average of 23 days for the bacteria to become undetectable under the microscope compared to 36 days for the latter.

The researchers commented that high doses of vitamin D seem to dampen down the body's inflammatory response to infection, a response that causes tissue damage leading to cavities in the lung. The fact that vitamin D can reduce damage to the lungs by dampening inflammatory responses, without interfering with the action of antibiotics, seems to suggest that supplements might be useful for patients taking antibiotics for diseases like pneumonia, sepsis and other lung infections. However, the scientists added that it is still too early to recommend all tuberculosis patients take high-dose vitamin D supplements alongside antibiotics, as more research using a larger group of patients needs to be conducted first.

Tuberculosis, which people in wealthier parts of the world often mistakenly believe to be a thing of the past, infected 8.8 million people worldwide and killed 1.4 million in 2010. The infection destroys lung tissue, causing patients to cough up the bacteria which then spreads through the air and can be inhaled by others.

References

  1. Coussens A. K. et al. Vitamin D accelerates resolution of inflammatory responses during tuberculosis treatment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online September 2012.