Vitamin A could be key factor in fighting killer TB

Vitamin A could be a major factor in the fight against TB, according to a report out this month.

The new research published in the Journal of Immunology looked at the role of nutrients in supporting the immune system when it fights against major infections.

Some results found that vitamin A could play an important role combating TB through recognising the mechanism by which vitamin A and a specific gene assist the immune system by reducing the level of cholesterol in cells infected with TB.

The US based researchers claims this is important because cholesterol can be used by TB bacteria for nutrition and other needs.

Tuberculosis remains a worldwide issue, affecting 2 billion people globally and causing an estimated 1.3 million deaths each year. Once thought to be largely eradicated from Western countries, the disease has made some comebacks with recent outbreaks in Los Angeles and London. Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is present in virtually all countries surveyed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"If we can reduce the amount of cholesterol in a cell infected with tuberculosis, we may be able to aid the immune system in better responding to the infection," explained senior author Philip Liu of UCLA. "Understanding how nutrients like vitamin A are utilized by our immune system to fight infections may provide new treatment approaches."

The team noted that although vitamin A circulates in the body in an inactive form known as retinol, it's the active form of the nutrient — all-trans reinoic acid — that is responsible for activating the immune system.

The UCLA team noted that their data is from an early-stage study, adding that more research needs to be done before recommending vitamin A supplementation to combat tuberculosis or other infections.

Key facts

  • Tuberculosis (TB) is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent.
  • In 2012, 8.6 million people fell ill with TB and 1.3 million died from TB.
  • Over 95% of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and it is among the top three causes of death for women aged 15 to 44.
  • In 2012, an estimated 530 000 children became ill with TB and 74 000 HIV-negative children died of TB.
  • TB is a leading killer of people living with HIV causing one quarter of all deaths.
  • Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is present in virtually all countries surveyed.
  • The estimated number of people falling ill with tuberculosis each year is declining, although very slowly, which means that the world is on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal to reverse the spread of TB by 2015.
  • The TB death rate dropped 45% between 1990 and 2012.
  • An estimated 22 million lives saved through use of DOTS and the Stop TB Strategy recommended by WHO.