Vitamin D may help fight pneumonia

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By david Liu, PHD

Sunday Aug 12, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- Evangelist Bill Graham was reportedly rushed to hospital to receive treatment for pneumonia, which kills a  couple of thousands of people in the U.S. each year.  

The infection poses higher risk for elderly people and taking a high dose of vitamin D may drastically reduce the risk, according to a study in Respirology.

The study led by L. Leow of  University of Waikato and University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand and colleagues found patients with pneumonia who had severe vitamin D deficiency or 25-hydroxyvitamin D deficiency defined as lower than 30 nmol per liter were nearly 13 times as likely as those who had sufficient serum vitamin D to die from the infection and complications.

From 112 patients with community acquired pneumonia admitted for treatment during winter, blood samples were tested for 25-hydroxyvitamin D, cathelicidin and beta-defensin-2.

Vitamin D has been known to help innate immune response and protect against bacterial and viral infections.  The protection is believed to be due to the increased levels of antimicorbial peptides cathelicidin and beta-defensin-2.

Vitamin D promotes the production of the antimicrobial peptides cathelicidin and beta-defensin-2, therefore it is believed that vitamin D helps prevent infections of all sorts including common cold and bird flu.

In this study,  the researchers found a trend: that is, lower cathelicidin was associated with increased pneumonia mortality, but cathelicidin and beta-defensin-2 levels did not predict mortality nor was associated with 25-hydroxyvitamin D.

The researchers concluded "25-hydroxyvitamin D deficiency is associated with increased mortality in patients admitted to hospital with community acquired pneumonia during winter."  But "25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were not associated with levels of cathelicidin or beta-defensin-2."

The study suggested low serum vitamin D boosts death risk in patients with pneumonia. But it is not clear how much antibacterial proteins like cathelicidin and beta-defensin-2 contribute to the reduction in the risk.

A study published in the July 2012 issue of Journal of Immunology found cathelicidin "an important contributor to effective host mucosal immunity in the lung in response to Gram-negative bacterial pneumonia."  

The study was conducted by M.A. Kovach of University of Michigan Medical Center and colleagues.

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