A new study has shown that taking vitamin D alongside antibiotics could help the body fight tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection of the lungs, but can spread to many parts of the body including the bones and nervous system.
TB used to be treated with 'forced sunbathing'
In the days before antibiotics were discovered, TB patients were prescribed heliotherapy, or ‘forced sunbathing’. The sunlight on their skin caused their bodies to create vitamin D.
But since antibiotics proved successful at treating TB, heliotherapy disappeared from practise.
However, a recent study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that patients recovered more quickly when being given both vitamin D and antibiotics.
Researchers at hospitals across London tested a combination of antibiotics and vitamin D pills on 95 patients. They found that recovery was almost two weeks faster when vitamin D was added.
Patients taking the combination cleared the TB infection in 23 days on average, whilst participants taking antibiotics and a dummy sugar pill took 36 days to recover.
All the patients in the study were suffering from non-resistant tuberculosis, but it is believed that adding vitamin D to treatments may be even more valuable for patients when they become resistant to antibiotics.
In some countries about half of all cases of TB are thought to be resistant to antibiotics.
Vitamin D is thought to work by calming inflammation during the infection. It is hoped that the vitamin may help in other lung diseases such as pneumonia and sepsis.
Dr Adrian Martineau, from Queen Mary University of London, told the BBC: "This isn't going to replace antibiotics, but it may be a useful extra weapon.
"It looks promising, but we need slightly stronger evidence."
Trials in more patients, as well as studies looking at the best dose and if different forms of vitamin D are better, will be needed before the vitamin could be used by doctors.
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012