Vitamin D May Allow for Lower Doses of Steroids
March 6, 2000 (San Diego) -- Most people know vitamin D builds strong bones;
now there's evidence that it may help subdue an overactive immune system
sometimes seen in cancer patients or those with transplanted organs. Asthma
patients also frequently take steroids to suppress the inflammation seen in
this disease. The findings were presented here at the annual meeting of the
American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology.
Lead author Orathai Jirapongsananuruk, MD, and colleagues studied the effect
of vitamin D in combination with the steroid drug dexamethasone. The
researchers found that the combination of vitamin D and the immune system
suppressing steroid prevented growth of immune cells that sometimes lead to
problems in people with conditions such as cancer, asthma, or organ
transplants. The researchers were also able to decrease the dose of steroids
and, with the addition of vitamin D, obtain as much immune-suppressing
"These findings demonstrate that vitamin D enhances the effect of
steroids on suppressing the immune system," says Jirapongsananuruk, of the
Denver Children's Hospital in Colorado. She explains that this effect could
allow patients to take lower doses of steroids, and might help them avoid some
of the side effects of these drugs, such as infection and weight gain.
The double-whammy of vitamin D and steroids may be particularly beneficial
for cancer patients, to whom steroids are sometimes given for various
complications of the disease, such as cancer spreading to the brain or bones,
and for recipients of transplanted organs, whose immune systems must be
inhibited to prevent them from rejecting the organs. However, Jirapongsananuruk
tells WebMD that she hesitates to recommend the combination for people with
asthma or allergies. Even though these conditions are characterized by an
overactive or inappropriate immune response, she says, that response is
mediated through different substances than the ones that are important for
cancer or transplant patients. But for those individuals, she says, the
combination of vitamin D and certain steroids could hold potential.
People receive vitamin D from sunlight and milk, which is usually fortified
with the vitamin. However, a vitamin D supplement would probably have to be
taken to get an immune-suppressing effect.
- A new study shows that vitamin D, taken in combination with steroids, can
enhance the effect of these drugs to subdue an overactive immune system.
- The addition of vitamin D may lower the dosage of steroids needed, and
avoid some of their side effects, such as infection and weight gain.
- This combination therapy may be most beneficial for cancer patients and
recipients of transplanted organs.