An article from University of Oslo

New research helps understand the importance of correct nutrition. (Photo: Colourbox)
New research helps understand the importance of correct nutrition. (Photo: Colourbox)

Vitamin substance suppresses inflammation

Some forms of inflammation may result in serious illness in the body. However, a substance derived from vitamin A appears to be capable of suppressing inflammatory responses.

University of Oslo

The University of Oslo is Norway's leading institution of research and higher education.

Inflammations should protect, repair and heal you if you are exposed to infections or injury, or have to undergo surgery — but they can also be dangerous.

If an inflammation develops and becomes very severe, chronic or too weak, it can cause the body significant damage and disease.

Under control

What, then, is needed to keep the inflammatory response under control? One person who has studied this is doctor and researcher Ingrid Benedicte Moss Kolseth at the University of Oslo’s Institute of Basic Medical Sciences.

The results of her study, which are presented in her PhD thesis “Acute and chronic inflammatory responses in monocytes and whole blood”, show that the advance of inflammations in blood and white blood cells can be slowed.

“By studying the congenital monocyte immune cell, we have discovered that a substance derived from vitamin A suppresses the inflammation that occurs if an immune cell contains large quantities of bacterial substances,” says Kolseth. This substance is 9-cis-retinoic acid.

Monocytes are part of our rapid response to infections. This type of immune cell is probably also active in chronic illnesses such as atherosclerosis and the development of kidney failure.

“In my research I have used a subgroup of this immune cell. It increases in number in cases of blood poisoning, kidney failure and heart disease, and is therefore well suited for the study of diseases where chronic or excessive inflammation actually fuels the course of illness,” explains Kolseth.

Surprisingly powerful effect

In the laboratory, Kolseth and her collaborators first of all treated immune cells with the vitamin A substance. The cells were then exposed to bacterial substances that trigger blood poisoning. 

“We created an acute inflammatory response and were thereby able to study the effect of the vitamin substance,” she explains.

“It was actually slightly surprising that the substance suppressed the inflammation to the extent that it did.”

Kolseth then repeated the procedure in whole blood from patients who were undergoing keyhole surgery for colon cancer. She studied the effect both before and after surgery.

“The patients experienced a suppressed inflammatory response to the bacterial substance immediately after their surgery, and we saw that the signal substances that drive the inflammations were far less discernible than immediately before the surgery,” she says. 

The importance of vitamin A

Findings from research into vitamin A are important in order to understand the importance of correct nutrition in the prevention of infections.

“The results of the study may help to explain why some patients have stronger immune responses than others. Increased inflammation is known to contribute to driving many disease processes, for example arthritis, blood poisoning, atherosclerosis and kidney failure,” explains Kolseth.

However, she points out that a great deal more research is needed to understand how inflammations drive acute and chronic diseases, and the role played by vitamin A in the total picture.

“At the moment I am working on completing a study in which we look at patients with Type 1 diabetes and kidney failure. We want to find out what it is that gives patients with kidney failure an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It may be that certain subgroups of monocytes and their ability to create long-lasting inflammation contribute to increasing the risk of complications in these patients.”

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