Vitamin D May Help to Prevent and Treat Tuberculosis

A new study finds that lower blood levels of vitamin D are related to an increased risk of tuberculosis (TB), suggesting that vitamin D supplementation may help prevent and treat TB. While previous research has shown a relationship between vitamin D deficiency and TB, this is the first study to document a similar relationship with latent TB a condition where a person is infected with the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, but does not have active tuberculosis disease.

The study is published in the February 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, currently available online.

Low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased likelihood of primary infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis and also, once infected, are associated with increased likelihood of having active TB, said lead author Katherine Gibney, MD.

Tuberculosis is a common and deadly infectious disease which usually attacks the lungs. According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that TB was responsible for the deaths of 1.6 million people in 2005. Approximately one-third of the worlds population is infected with TB bacillus, most of whom have a latent infection, not active disease. Approximately 10 percent of those with a latent infection will develop active disease. People with HIV or otherwise weakened immune systems are also at greater risk of contracting the bacillus and developing active disease.

The research was conduction among sub-Saharan African immigrants to Australia. Worldwide, most TB cases occur in developing countries; however, the number of cases in the developed world is increasing as the number of people whose immune systems are compromised by immunosuppressive drugs, substance abuse, or HIV/AIDS increases. 

Gibney suggests the next step is to study the effects of adding vitamin D supplementation to regular TB treatment in patients with active TB to determine if they get better faster. Gibney also recommends a trial of vitamin D supplementation in patients with latent TB to determine if supplementation reduces the risk of progression to TB. Vitamin D therapy should be investigated as an adjunct to therapy in both TB and latent TB and should not replace standard anti-TB medications.

Source: Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)