By the time I finished medical school in 1976, “non A, non B hepatitis” was a fairly common diagnosis after a blood transfusion. Twenty years later, they discovered the culprit, named it “hepatitis C,” and finally had a way to test for the virus in transfused blood. This reduced the risk of blood transfusion-associated hepatitis in the U.S. from 30% in 1970 to virtually zero in 2000.
However, every year, about 10,000 Americans still die from hepatitis C. In the world, about 150 million people are infected. In the USA, much of the infection is due to intravenous drug use, while in the developing world, contaminated blood transfusions are still the culprit. Egypt has a very high rate of hepatitis C infection (>20%) due to a failed mass-treatment campaign for a parasitic disease (snail fever), using improperly cleaned syringes.
Treatment for hepatitis C is improving, although one type — the hardest to treat, Type 1 — requires almost a year of treatment with interferon and ribavirin, and results are not that great. Only about 50% of patients show a sustained response. At least that was the case until vitamin D came along.
Last month, in a prospective and randomized trial, Dr. Saif Abu-Mouch and colleagues in Israel discovered that 2,000 IU of vitamin D a day, added to standard treatment, cured 86% of patients while standard treatment alone only cured about 42% of patients with Type 1 hepatitis C.
Abu-Mouch S, Fireman Z, Jarchovsky J, Zeina AR, Assy N. Vitamin D supplementation improves sustained virologic response in chronic hepatitis C (genotype 1)-naïve patients. World J Gastroenterol. 2011 Dec 21;17(47):5184-90.
It appears the authors neither had enough money to make it a placebo controlled trial, nor enough money to obtain more than one vitamin D level. Nor did they have enough money to follow the treated patients, giving them all vitamin D, to get some idea if vitamin D alone has a treatment effect. Also note that they only used 2,000 IU/day. However, the fact that they gave vitamin D3, and did so daily (not weekly or monthly), may be the reason they got such a robust response.
The take-away message is that if you have hepatitis, of any kind, make sure you are taking at least 5,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 before you undergo standard treatment. The vitamin D will increase the amount of antimicrobial peptides in your body and help fight off the virus. I suspect that in a few years a randomized controlled trial will show that 5,000 IU/day is excellent treatment, better than the results of studies using only standard treatment.