Vitamin D and Hepatitis C

Hepatitis virions, of an unknown strain of the...

Hepatitis virions, of an unknown strain of the organism (Photo credit: Microbe World)

You will see a recurring theme of using vitamin D more. I will write why it is logical vitamin D would be so such a useful and yet frequently deficient vitamin in another post.

But yet another use that does not get the attention it should is Vitamin D in Hepatitis C infection. Hepatitis C is a virus that can cause a chronic infection the person is unable to clear. This can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. There are treatments but they have very serious side effects, make the patient feel horrible, and have a fairly high failure rate. However, vitamin D might be able to change that.

A 2011 study in Hepatology showed that Vitamin D caused liver cancer cells to produce interferon (a chemical produced by the body that stimulates the immune system). It just so happens that interferon is one of the main drugs we use to treat Hepatitis C. In 2011  a study by Bitetto et al. showed that severe deficiency in vitamin D led to only 10% of patients responding to interferon therapy and being effectively treated for their hepatitis C. In only mildly deficient patients this rate improved to 30% and improved further to 50% in those with normal Vitamin D levels. A 2012 article in Hepatology actually directly showed that Hepatitic C levels decreased in a dose dependent fashion when exposed to Vitamin D. However it is interesting that a recent article in the Annals of Hepatology specifically looking at Spanish patients found no change in Hepatitis C viral levels in the blood after vitamin D supplementation. Some other studies have shown no difference in response to treatment in baseline low vs normal vitamin D level patients.

The preponderance of the evidence points towards a benefit but there is some that shows no benefit. Given that we have a plausible explanation as to why vitamin D would help suppress Hepatitis C and given the increasing evidence that it works I see no reason why a large randomized trial has not yet been done. Most studies so far have been small. There is really no excuse for this as Hepatitis C is a VERY common disease and a large study could be put together quickly.

Some evidence is showing the same possible benefit from Vitamin B12 as well. These are harmless substances that could potentially change people’s lives and save the healthcare system immense amounts of money if it makes treatment successful and prevents cirrhosis or liver cancer. We need to move forward with this soon.

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