Patients with active tuberculosis are more likely to be vitamin D deficient than the rest of the population. New research, presented at the annual Society for Endocrinology BES meeting in Harrogate, shows that the majority of patients with tuberculosis (TB) have low levels of vitamin D, leading to the possibility that vitamin D supplementation could reinforce current treatments or be used as a preventative measure against tuberculosis.
Researchers at the Central Middlesex Hospital in London, led by Dr Vassiliki Bravis, examined the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in an ethnically diverse population in London who had active tuberculosis. Out of 158 patients in the study, only 11 (7%) had adequate vitamin D levels. Additionally, patients’ vitamin D levels did not vary seasonally as expected, but remained constant throughout the year. It is currently unclear whether these findings represent a contributory factor to TB infection, with people with low vitamin D levels being more likely to contract the disease, or whether tuberculosis infection makes the body process vitamin D in an abnormal way, leading to patients becoming deficient. More research is now needed to establish whether vitamin D could provide a new line of treatment or preventative medicine against tuberculosis.
Vitamin D is manufactured by the skin after exposure to UV rays from sunlight. If you live in the UK, your vitamin D levels should fluctuate seasonally with the amount of sunlight you are exposed to, being higher in the summer and lower in the winter. Approximately 14.5% of the UK population is vitamin D deficient. However, vitamin D deficiency is more common amongst the Asian and African population, in whom TB infection is also more prevalent. Previous work indicates that vitamin D may help ward off tuberculosis as it mediates a key immune response against the bacterium that causes TB. Tuberculosis is a major global health problem, which causes over 2 million deaths every year.
Researcher Dr Vassiliki Bravis said:
"Previous research has shown that high levels of vitamin D can help inhibit tuberculosis infection. Our work shows that, within a London population, the majority of TB patients we treat are vitamin D deficient. Currently, we don’t know whether this vitamin D deficiency is a contributing factor towards them developing the disease or whether tuberculosis infection makes the body process vitamin D in an abnormal way, meaning that sufferers subsequently become vitamin D deficient. Looking towards the future, we now need to carry out trials to establish whether vitamin D supplementation could be used effectively to either prevent or help treat tuberculosis infection."
This paper was presented as a poster (number 17) at the Society for Endocrinology BES meeting. The abstract for this work is at http://www.endocrine-abstracts.org/ea/0015/ea0015P17.htm.
The Society for Endocrinology BES 2008 is Britain’s biggest scientific meeting on hormones took place at the Harrogate International Centre, Harrogate, from 7-10 April 2008. For the full programme, please see http://www.endocrinology.org/meetings/2008/BES2008/prog/prog.aspx.
The Society for Endocrinology is Britain’s national organisation promoting endocrinology and hormone awareness.