For decades before antibiotics became generally available, sunshine was used to treat tuberculosis, with patients often being sent to Swiss clinics to soak up the sun's healing rays. Now, for the first time scientists have shown how and why heliotherapy might, indeed, have made a difference.
A study led by researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, conducted in collaboration with the Medical Research Council's National Institute for Medical Research, has shown that high doses of vitamin D, given in addition to antibiotic treatment, appear to help patients with tuberculosis (TB) recover more quickly.
The research, which will be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), is the first to investigate the effect of vitamin D on the immune responses of patients receiving treatment for an infectious disease. The findings indicate that high doses of the vitamin can dampen down the body's inflammatory response to infection, enabling patients to recover faster, with less damage to their lungs.
In addition to stimulating recovery in TB patients, the authors say their results suggest that vitamin D supplementation might help patients recover better from other diseases such as pneumonia.
Dr Adrian Martineau, senior lecturer in respiratory infection and immunity at the Blizard Institute, part of Queen Mary, University of London, who led the research, said: "These findings are very significant. They indicate that vitamin D may have a role in accelerating resolution of inflammatory responses in tuberculosis patients. This is important, because sometimes these inflammatory responses can cause tissue damage leading to the development of cavities in the lung. If we can help these cavities to heal more quickly, then patients should be infectious for a shorter period of time, and they may also suffer less lung damage.
"More broadly, the ability of vitamin D
|Contact: Emma Mason|
Queen Mary, University of London