Tuberculosis is an infectious disease we don’t worry about all that much in modern, well-developed nations, but it is a devastating disease nonetheless. In the United States, only 5-10% of the population tests positive for the tuberculosis bacteria, but in many African and Asian countries that rate is more like 80%. The infection can be latent and then progresses to the active disease, which it does at a rate of about one in ten. If untreated, tuberculosis kills 50% of the people who get it. Although overall tuberculosis is in decline globally, there are still more than 8 million new cases each year and 1.5 million deaths annually from TB. The most well-known of its symptoms is a chronic cough in which those infected eventually start coughing up blood. In the past the disease was often called consumption.
Vitamin plays a role in protecting people from TB because it helps our immune response through suppressing Interferon-gamma (IFN-g) and reducing inflammation that has been shown to increase the risk of a wide range of infections and diseases. But one group of researchers wanted to know if vitamin D could be useful in treating people once they are known to have TB.
In the experiment, 259 patients with TB were given either high doses of vitamin D3 or a placebo. There results were clear – those who received the high doses of vitamin D improved greatly on all clinical and radiographic measures, and for those patients who started out with a vitamin D deficiency, there was increased host immune activation.
It’s important to note the doses involved here. Somewhere along the way someone saw that single doses of vitamin D enhanced the body’s ability to kill the TB bacteria, but then two other studies tried to see that with supplements and saw no effect. This study thinks their doses were too low. This study gave the patients 600,000IU of vitamin D3 in two doses a month apart, which is a huge amount.
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