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Vitamin D supplements may offer cheap and effective immune system boost against TB

Scientists have shown that a single 2.5mg dose of vitamin D may be enough to boost the immune system to fight against tuberculosis (TB) and similar bacteria for at least 6 weeks. Their findings came from a study that identified an extraordinarily high incidence of vitamin D deficiency amongst those communities in London most at risk from the disease, which kills around two million people each year.

The research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Department of Environmental Health at Newham Council and Newham University Hospital NHS Trust Respiratory Research Fund, is published online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Whilst a diet of oily fish can provide some vitamin D, the main source of the body's vitamin D comes from exposing the skin to sunlight. In Britain, however, the amount of sunlight is usually insufficient to make vitamin D in the skin between October and April, and much of the population becomes deficient during the winter and spring.

Researchers from Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Research in Clinical Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London, studied patients at Newham University Hospital and Northwick Park Hospital in London who had been exposed to TB. They found that over 90% of such patients had a vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D was used to treat TB in the pre-antibiotic era, when special sanatoria were built in sunny locations, such as the Swiss Alps. But until now, no study has evaluated the effect of vitamin D supplementation on immunity to mycobacteria, the family of bacteria that cause TB.

The researchers performed a randomised control trial on a group of volunteers who were given either a 2.5mg supplement or a placebo. Samples of the volunteers' blood were then tested in Dr Robert Wilkinson's Wellcome Trust-funded laboratory at Imperial College, to see whether the supplement affected the immune syst
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Contact: Craig Brierley
c.brierley@wellcome.ac.uk
44-207-611-7329
Wellcome Trust
15-May-2007


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