A study led by British researchers has found that high doses of vitamin D, which is made in the body when exposed to sunlight, appears to help patients recover more quickly from tuberculosis (TB) when given alongside antibiotic treatment.
From the 1800s onwards, before the use of antibiotics, patients with TB were encouraged to seek sun exposure , known as ‘heliotherapy’, but it is only now that researchers have discovered how sunshine can benefit patients with TB.
The findings suggest high doses of the vitamin dampen down the body’s inflammatory response to infection reducing damage to the lungs, said Adrian Martineau, a senior lecturer in respiratory infection and immunity at Queen Mary University of London, who led the study.
He stated that the bodies inflammatory responses to TB infection can cause tissue damage which leads to cavities in the lung, and “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 infection destroys lung tissue, causing patients to cough up the bacteria which then spread through the air and can be inhaled by others.
In recent years, rates of drug-resistant TB have been spreading fast across the world, causing alarm among public health officials and prompting calls for more research into new and more effective treatments.
The researchers, whose study was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, split 95 TB patients, who were on standard antibiotic treatment, into two groups. For the first 8 weeks of their treatment, 44 were also given high-dose vitamin D, while the remaining 51 received placebos.
Anna Coussens from Britain’s National Institute for Medical Research measured signs of inflammation in blood samples to see what effect the vitamin D had on immune responses.
“We found that a large number of these inflammatory markers fell further and faster in patients receiving vitamin D,” she said.
The researchers also said they think vitamin D’s ability to dampen inflammatory responses without interfering with the action of antibiotics suggests supplements might be useful for patients taking antibiotics for other diseases, such as pneumonia, sepsis and other lung infections.