Diet Diary: The vitamin D route to fight tuberculosis – The Indian Express


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According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tuberculosis is the number one killer infectious disease globally. India is the worst affected country, accounting for one fifth of the global incidence. About one-third of the world’s population has latent tuberculosis, which means people have been infected by TB bacteria but are not yet ill with the disease and cannot transmit the disease.

A disease which was earlier thought to affect the underprivileged and economically weaker sections, no longer confines itself to that strata of society.

Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium), which begins to cause disease in people with a weak immune system or those who are malnourished. Common symptoms include fatigue, low grade fever, night sweats, chills, loss of appetite, cough and unexplained weight loss. High risk populations include weaker sections of society, undernourished and the immuno-compromised, the elderly, those HIV positive, gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. High index of suspicion is required to diagnose intestinal tuberculosis in known cases of celiac disease as both conditions present with similar complaints.

Tuberculosis though can be prevented by a healthy diet that supports a strong immune system. Most people, however, make dietary changes only after getting infected. While several nutrients are important to maintain a healthy immune system including zinc, vitamin A, B, C, E & D and proteins, the role of vitamin D is beginning to assume great importance in regulating the immune system.

According to some studies, vitamin D is associated with high incidence of immune system disorders and fast progression of infectious diseases. Today, vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic affecting people across the world. Most commonly, vitamin D is associated with bone health and the skeletal system, however, it has been found to play a beneficial role in the prevention and treatment of number of chronic disease affecting the immune system.

Evidence that vitamin D protects against tuberculosis has been reported in several clinical studies. Not only this, vitamin D has also been found to enhance recovery from tuberculosis. This suggests a therapeutic role of vitamin D in tuberculosis. A systemic meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 2007 to explore the association between low vitamin D and risk of tuberculosis, reported a higher risk of tuberculosis among people with vitamin D deficiency.

The good news is that tuberculosis is curable and preventable. Eating a healthy nutrient dense diet, maintaining a good digestion and intestinal health and following an active lifestyle along with a positive outlook can prevent and improve malnutrition, strengthen the immune system and prevent tuberculosis. Public health education stressing the need for adequate dietary intake of vitamin D, is necessary.

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