News / Health

Studies Reveal Health Benefits of Vitamin D in TB and HIV

Jessica Berman
New research suggests that mega-doses of vitamin D, the so-called “sunshine vitamin,” may help fight both tuberculosis and reduce the risk of death from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  

An estimated 1.5 million people die each year of tuberculosis amid concerns that the disease is rapidly becoming drug resistant.  Now, a new study suggests TB treatment could be significantly enhanced with the addition of vitamin D to the regimen.

Researchers at Queen Mary University in London studied 95 tuberculosis patients.  All received the standard antibiotic treatment, but some were given a supplement of a very high dose of Vitamin D, about 10 times the average dose.

Investigators led by Adrian Martineau found that the TB bacterium cleared from those in the vitamin D group in an average of 23 days - approximately two weeks sooner than those on antibiotics alone.

Martineau says vitamin D - the so-called 'sunshine vitamin' - appears to bolster the body’s natural defenses.  

“But a second and interesting effect is that vitamin D also dampens down potentially harmful inflammatory responses in the lung that’s been implicated in lung damage," said Martineau. "So, it also accelerates healing of cavities caused by the TB bug.”

The tuberculosis bacterium causes cavities to form in the lungs in response to inflammation, which is part of the body’s immune response.  The microbe hides in these pockets.  Martineau suggests that reducing inflammation helps heal the cavities more quickly, causing less lung damage and helping patients clear the infection in a shorter period of time.

Before antibiotics, TB patients underwent so-called heliotherapy or “forced sunbathing” to increase their levels of vitamin D.  Martineau’s finding appears to validate the old-fashioned therapy.

“We’re very excited about these positive results," he said. "But what we need to do now is go ahead and repeat the study in a larger number of patients.  And if that also shows a positive effect, then we could be in a situation where we could begin to start recommending adjunctive vitamin D in tuberculosis treatment.”

Vitamin D levels have been shown to be reduced or very low in individuals with a number of chronic ailments, including AIDS.

In another new study, researchers in Tanzania report that HIV-positive individuals with vitamin D deficiency became sicker and were twice as likely to die as those with sufficient or normal levels.  The researchers looked at vitamin D levels in 1,100 men infected with the AIDS virus between 2006 and 2010.  
 
Their study on HIV and vitamin D was published in the journal PLoS One.  An article by Adrian Martineau and colleagues on the treatment of tuberculosis with supplemental vitamin D can be found in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  

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