Vitamin D is becoming known for a growing number of health benefits, but the sunshine vitamin has its limits. A recent study has found that vitamin D can help speed recovery from tuberculosis. But hopes that vitamin D could have an affect on lowering cholesterol levels may have been dashed by another study.
Drug resistant TB spreading
Most people in richer countries assume that tuberculosis, a bacterial infection that destroys lung tissue, has been eradicated much like smallpox. However, more than 8.8 million people worldwide were infected and tuberculosis killed 1.4 million.
Tuberculosis (TB) spreads when infected people cough up the bacteria, which becomes airborne, where others can inhale them. Far from being eradicated, a new drug-resistant strain of TB has been spreading in recent years. To halt the advance of the disease, researchers have been investigating a treatment practiced long ago.
A dose of heliotherapy, then and now
Before antibiotics were developed in the 1930s, TB patients were sequestered at retreats called sanatoriums where they soaked up the sun in a treatment called “heliotherapy.” Researchers Queen Mary University in London have found that high doses of vitamin D—in the form of supplements rather than sunlight—given along with antibiotics, helped TB patients recover more quickly.
The study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, compared a group of TB patients on antibiotics with a group on antibiotics and vitamin D. Patients on antibiotics alone recovered in an average of 36 days. Those supplemented with vitamin D recovered in just an average of 23 days.
Researchers suggested that high doses of vitamin D reduce damage to the lungs by suppressing the body’s inflammatory response to infection. They also said that vitamin D could also compliment antibiotic treatments for pneumonia, sepsis and other lung infections, because the supplements reduced inflammation without dampening the affect of the antibiotics.
No effect on cholesterol
The news wasn’t so good for vitamin D and cholesterol. Some previous research had suggested that mega-doses of vitamin D could help people manage their cholesterol levels. But in a study published online in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, vitamin D did not change cholesterol levels
Researchers gave 151 people with vitamin D deficiency either a mega dose of vitamin D3 (50,000 international units) or a placebo. After 8 weeks, vitamin D levels tripled in the participants on supplements, but their cholesterol levels changed no more than those on the placebo.
Eat vitamin D foods
Hopefully, most people in the world can manage to avoid contracting TB. And a healthy diet and exercise is still the best way to return blood cholesterol to healthy levels. But it’s still important to get an adequate amount of the sunshine, vitamin. This essential nutrient is important for regulating blood pressure, blood sugar, the immune system, bone integrity and cognitive function. Vitamin D may even have a role in cancer prevention.
According to the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences, adults should get at least 600 IU of vitamin D every day. It’s always better to get essential nutrients from real food rather than supplements. The foods rated highest in vitamin D include salmon, sardines, milk, mushrooms and eggs.