Close to 200 million people worldwide suffer from viral hepatitis C, and in Israel alone the number of those infected is about 200,000 (a large portion of whom are not even aware of their illness). These numbers indicate that the importance of new research with interesting findings cannot be underestimated for the millions with the disease. The results show that sufferers of hepatitis C who take vitamin D together with the standard treatment, i.e., injection of interferon and ribavarin - will improve their chances of recovery by dozens of percentage points, even to complete elimination of the disease.
No sign of the virus could be detected in the blood of 44% of patients who received vitamin D supplements
The study was presented recently at the American conference of the International Association for the Study of the Liver by its leader: Dr. Saif Abu-Mouch, Director of the Liver Clinic at the Gastroenterology Institute and a senior physician in the Internal Medicine B Department of the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center. The study was conducted on patients of the Liver Unit at Sieff Hospital in Safed. Approximately 157 hepatitis C patients participated in the study, who were found to be lacking in vitamin D and were treated with an injection of interferon and ribavarin. The participants were divided into a control group and an experimental group, which regularly received a vitamin D supplement.
"After only one month," explains Dr. Saif Abu-Mouch, "no sign of the virus could be found in the blood of 44% of patients receiving vitamin D supplements. This compares to only 18% of the control group. Three months after starting treatment, the differences were even more pronounced - the virus had almost completely disappeared from the blood of 96% of patients in the experimental group, compared to 48% of the untreated control group."
In addition, the study showed that even six months after cessation of treatment, the virus remained undetectable in the blood of approximately 90% of patients treated with vitamin D. Moreover – it was not evident even in their lymph nodes or liver, as it usually is. It can therefore be inferred that the virus was unequivocally eliminated from their bodies.
The significant results of the experiment have revolutionary implications for sufferers of hepatitis C. The results show that vitamin D plays a critical role in improving and even recovering completely from the disease. The importance of such results cannot be underestimated at the global level.
Vitamin D and Hepatitis C – What is the connection?
No less interesting than the findings of this revolutionary research is the path that led Dr. Abu-Mouch to investigate the association between this common vitamin, vitamin D, and hepatitis C. Until this study and its surprising results, no one had thought there was such a connection. It is known that the body absorbs vitamin D mainly through solar radiation and less through nutrition. The well-known, accepted treatment for hepatitis C consists of injections, including interferon: a protein the body produces during a viral infection, which suppresses and eliminates the hepatitis virus. Rates of recovery that were measured starting in the 1990s ranged from 6% at the beginning of the period to 35% at the end of the first decade of this century.
In recent years, with the commencement of treatment with interferon delayed, the frequency of treatment was changed from three times a week to only once a week. The injection was combined with another drug called ribavarin, and the recovery rate of all patients treated rose to about 50%.
Dr. Abu-Mouch attributes his interest in the effects of vitamin D on hepatitis C to two articles he read. The first was a study conducted in the United States and published between 2002 and 2009 in the New England Journal of Medicine. This study, which examined the recovery rates of hepatitis C, showed that those with fair skin had a higher rate (up to 50% recovery), while those with darker skin, receiving identical treatment, had recovery rates ranging from 16-25%.
"While conducting this research," notes Dr. Abu-Mouch, "I came across another study published in the American Journal of Nutrition in 2004 which discussed vitamin D deficiency among various populations in the U.S. This study showed that dark-skinned subjects were more deficient in vitamin D than fair-skinned subjects - a figure that led him to consider the fact that dark-skinned people do not absorb the ultraviolet rays of the sun, unlike those with fair skin.
“After I read the two articles, and because I have been researching and treating this disease for years, I considered the possibility of a link between the findings presented in each, which should be thoroughly examined. Hence the present study, which, as discussed, has highly significant implications for both patients and physicians who treat the disease."
Following its presentation in America at The Liver Meeting in November 2009, the study's conclusions provoked wide media attention among liver experts around the world, and Dr. Abu-Mouch was even asked to present it at the International Liver Congress, held in April 2010 in Vienna.