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Could Vitamin D Help Prevent Meningitis?

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By David Liu, PHD

Saturday Oct 6, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- Meningitis, which can be caused by a number of infectious agents like fungi, bacteria and viruses, is highly lethal.  A new study in the journal Epidemiology and Infection suggests that taking vitamin D supplements to maintain a high level of serum vitamin D may help reduce the risk of contracting tuberculous meningitis.

D.H. Visser of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and colleagues reported that the incidence rate of tuberculous meningitis is lower among children who were exposed to sunshine for a longer period of time.  Exposure to sunshine is the major natural way for humans to get vitamin D.

Tuberculous meningitis is a severe complication of tuberculosis and occurs mainly in young children.  It has been observed that its incidence rate varies with season and serum vitamin D levels, which prompted researchers to wonder if vitamin D has something to do with the risk of this type of meningitis.

In the study, Visser et al. conducted a statistic analysis of data from children in Cape Town, South Africa and found a significant association between the incidence of tuberculous meningitis and hours of exposure to sunshine three months prior to the diagnosis of the disease.  That is, each 100 sunshine hours was associated with 31 percent reduced risk of contracting the disease. 

The researchers concluded "Vitamin D might play a role in the pathophysiology of TBM (tuberculous meningitis)."

This study was focused on the effect of vitamin D on tuberculous meningitis.  Could vitamin D have an effect on other types of meningitis?

Studies have demonstrated that vitamin D plays a critical role in innate immunity by at least promoting the production of antimicrobial peptides in cells.  Physicians observed that supplementation of high doses of vitamin D like 2000 IU per day helped reduce risk of swine flu infection, according to Dr. John Cannell, Director of Vitamin D Council.

A recent meningitis outbreak was caused by a fungi-contaminated steroid shot.  Thousands of people are at risk of developing the disease and dozens if not hundreds may die from the accident.  Could vitamin D supplements help reduce the risk of developing the disease in those who received the tainted steroid shot?

W.B. Grant at Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center in San Francisco, California reported in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that increasing vitamin D level from 54 to 110 nmol/L may reduce the risk of death from coronary heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and infections, tuberculosis and diabetes mellitus by 20 percent.

Dr. Grant also reported that vitamin D sensitive diseases and infections include meningitis, meaning that a high level of serum vitamin D can help reduce risk of contracting meningitis.

Meningitis is featured with symptoms including headaches, fever, nausea, and stiffness of the neck.   People with fungal meningitis may also experience confusion, dizziness, and discomfort from bright lights, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

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