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Research Sheds Light on Vitamin D's Role in Immunity
Date:10/12/2011

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Vitamin D plays a critical role in the body's ability to fight off infections like tuberculosis (TB) -- a potentially fatal lung disease, according to a new study.

An international team of researchers found that vitamin D, which is a natural hormone, is linked to human immune reactions and might also help protect against cancer and autoimmune diseases.

In conducting the study, the investigators examined how the body manages to kill or stop the growth of pathogens such as M. tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes TB. They found the white blood cells, or T-cells, that are critical to the body's ability to fight off infections cannot function properly without adequate levels of vitamin D.

On the other hand, the study, published in the Oct. 12 online edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine, found there was an 85 percent drop in the TB bacteria when there was no vitamin D deficiency.

"Over the centuries, vitamin D has intrinsically been used to treat tuberculosis. Sanatoriums dedicated to tuberculosis patients were traditionally placed in sunny locations that seemed to help patients -- but no one knew why this worked," said study first author Dr. Mario Fabri, who conducted the research at University of California, Los Angeles and is currently at the department of dermatology at the University of Cologne, Germany. Sunlight is one source of vitamin D in humans, along with food sources and supplements.

"Our findings suggest that increasing vitamin D levels through supplementation may improve the immune response to infections such as tuberculosis," Fabri explained in a university news release.

Vitamin D plays an important role in supporting both the innate immune system (the immunity humans are born with) as well as adaptive immunity (immunity acquired over time following exposure to various pathogens), the study showed.

The researchers
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