Is there any end to the wonder of vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin? Aptly named because the best source of it is the sun, this vitamin that also has hormone-like properties is showing some pretty impressive health benefits. Preliminary studies show it may reduce the risk of chronic diseases as diverse as cancer and multiple sclerosis and as ubiquitous as the common cold. Now, a new study shows that vitamin D could also help people who have chronic hepatitis C infection protect their liver.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver and affects almost three hundred million people worldwide. Although the virus may be asymptomatic in its initial stages, in many cases it becomes chronic and can lead to liver inflammation, scarring, and, in some cases, cirrhosis. Chronic hepatitis C infection is usually treated with anti-viral medications to help reduce the viral load and the effects of the virus on the liver. Now, this new study shows that giving supplemental vitamin D along with anti-viral drugs may offer some additional benefit to patients suffering from chronic hepatitis C infection.
This small study looked at 58 patients with chronic hepatitis C infection. It showed that when vitamin D was given along with the standard antiviral therapy, hepatitis C patients were more likely to have a rapid virologic response to the medications. In fact, the vitamin D appeared to act synergistically with the medications to more effectively destroy the hepatitis C virus. The researchers emphasized that the group that was given the vitamin D along with the medications had more serious cases of hepatitis C than the control group and they still showed a significantly better response,
It’s not surprising that vitamin D would have benefits when it comes to treating a viral infection such as hepatitis C. Vitamin D is known to positively affect immune response. Some studies have also shown that it has anti-viral properties and may protect against the flu virus. This powerful combination of anti-viral and immune boosting properties could be two of the factors that make it effective for treatment of chronic hepatitis C infection. Other studies have shown that people with chronic hepatitis C infection are often deficient in vitamin D – some severely so and that the deficiency is often greatest in those who have evidence of more severe liver damage.
The bottom line? It may be premature to start supplementing with high doses of vitamin D if you have chronic hepatitis C, but it would be wise to have a vitamin D level checked to make sure you’re not deficient. If vitamin D levels come back low, adding a vitamin D supplement could be beneficial. Ask your doctor about this.