Contributed by John Jacob Cannell, MD, executive director of The Vitamin D Council
Researchers in Belgium appear to be the first to show that simple, natural and cheap vitamin D (cholecalciferol) lowers C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a measure of inflammation in the body, in critically ill patients.
Even small amounts of vitamin D, about 500 IU, lowered inflammation by more than 25 percent in a small group of critically ill patients. Another marker of inflammation (IL-6) was reduced even more. The researchers also found that critically ill patients were profoundly deficient in vitamin D.
In another study, researchers found that vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased inflammation in otherwise healthy people. Increased inflammation in the body can increase the risk of chronic inflammatory conditions, including coronary heart disease (CHD) and diabetes. Further, the researchers found that inflammation was lowered by simple vitamin D.
As vitamin D deficiency is associated with numerous illnesses with inflammatory components, such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune illness and heart disease, the findings were important. The authors concluded, "This finding provides a possible mechanism for tissue damage in chronic inflammatory conditions, including CHD and diabetes."
Inflammation in the body may be as important as cholesterol in determining the risk of heart disease. Unlike cholesterol alone, cholesterol and inflammation together predict a substantial number of cases of heart disease.
Various studies show that vitamin D deficiency is widespread among the critically ill and suggest that that vitamin D deficiency may contribute to the inflammatory basis of various illnesses.
For example, earlier this year researchers studied patients with congestive heart failure and found elevated levels of TNF, another marker of inflammation. They also found critically low levels of calcidiol [25(OH)D], the only reliable marker of vitamin D, and even found low levels of calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D that is usually low only in those who are severely vitamin D deficient.
They concluded vitamin D deficiency might contribute to the development of congestive heart failure (CHF).
It is important to note that vitamin D's anti-inflammatory actions in humans have long been suspected. For example, several studies using compounds similar to vitamin D have been shown to significantly reduce inflammation and improve the patients' condition when given to patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.