New Study Links Vitamin D and Lupus Immunity Function

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This week, researchers from the Internal Medicine Department of the Pitie-Salpetnere Hospital in Paris released the first-ever study reporting the effects that vitamin D has on the immune system of people with lupus. The study, presented at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting held in Chicago, notes a connection between lupus and the disturbance of T- and B-cells which can be positively or negatively affected based on vitamin D status.

Benjamin Terrier MD, Patrice Cacoub MD PhD, and Nathalie Costedoat-Chalumeau MD,PhD studied the effects of Vitamin D supplementation on 24 people diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs, nervous system, and/or other organs of the body. All patients were taking a stable dose of prednisone and/or immunosuppressive drugs, and only those with no or mild lupus activity were included in the study.

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The researchers note that there is a connection between lupus and the disturbance of several cells within the immune system including regulatory T-cells, T-helper lymphocytes, and B-cells. Vitamin D has been shown in previous studies to affect the numbers and function of many of these immune cells.

Twenty of the participants had documented low levels of vitamin D. Each of these patients received vitamin D supplementation (100,000 IU of cholecalciferol) via injection each week for four weeks and then once monthly for six months. Blood lymphocytes were analyzed at three time-points to monitor the effects of the cells under the therapy.

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Serum 25(OH) D levels – a measure of vitamin D status – reached normal levels at two and six months during the study period. All patients had stable lupus activity and none needed an increase in medications due to a flare of the disease.

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The number of regulatory T-cells increased during the vitamin supplementation, as were both naïve and activated memory regulatory T-cells. These play an important role in maintaining a healthy immune system. Levels of anti-DNA antibodies, abnormal compounds produced by the B-cells, T-helper lymphocytes, and activated CD8+T cells (which may contribute to the disease process) were decreased.

In addition to being effective, the vitamin D supplementation was found to be safe. The participants did not develop excess calcium in the blood or calcium deposits, such as in kidney stones.

"This preliminary study provides encouraging results and suggests the beneficial role of vitamin D supplementation in patients with SLE, " said Dr. Terrier. "However, these findings need to be confirmed in large randomized controlled trials."

Reference: Presentation Number: 577 - "Restoration of Regulatory T Cells-Th17 Cells Balance in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Through Vitamin D Supplementation"

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