CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Dietary supplements containing vanadium are used bybody builders to help beef up muscles and by some diabetic people tocontrol blood sugar. New research now suggests the naturally occurringbut easily toxic element may help prepare the body to recover speedilyfrom infections from gram-negative organisms such as E. coli.
In research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,scientists are trying to understand how recovery might be encouragedand why people with diabetes tend to have lingering behavioral symptomssuch as fatigue and apathy long after many infections end.
Their latest research found that mice given vanadium -- in itstypical vanadyl sulfate form -- before exposure to a pathogen spedrecovery in both diabetic and non-diabetic animals. They also testedpre-treatment with insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which vanadiummimics, but only the non-diabetic mice recovered quickly afterexposure.
The new paper appeared on line Oct. 10 ahead of regularjournal publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy ofSciences.
Researchers Daniel R. Johnson, a doctoral student, and Dr.Gregory Freund, head of the pathology department in the College ofMedicine at Urbana-Champaign, don't suggest adding vanadium supplementsto everyday diets. However, they said, the findings raise questionsabout just how it works and how it might be useful in speedingrecovery.
The amount of vanadium used in the study was comparable to thatfound in nutritional supplements. While its nutritional value isunclear, the body needs an estimated 10 to 20 micrograms a day andobtains it mostly from plant material. Vanadium in much higher levelsbecomes toxic. Its use for building muscles has not been confirmed, butvanadium has improved insulin sensitivity and reduced blood sugar indiabetic people.
In their research, Johnson first administered a low dose oflipopolysaccharide (LPS), a molecule present on E. coli and othergram-negative bacteria, to both diabetic and non-diabetic mice afterthey had been given IGF-1. Non-diabetic mice recovered more quicklythan diabetic mice, suggesting, he said, an insulin resistance state inthe diabetic animals.
Next, experimental mice were pre-treated with vanadyl sulfatebefore exposure to LPS. Recovery after illness of the vanadium-treatedmice, diabetic or not, was 50 percent faster than that of the untreatedcontrol mice.
"With vanadyl sulfate being like IGF-1, we expected to seeresistance in the diabetic animals, but we didn't see that," Johnsonsaid. "We saw similar improvement. Thus it must have been actingthrough a different pathway than do IGF-1 or insulin."
Johnson and Freund, also an adjunct professor of animalsciences and a researcher in the immunophysiology and behavior programat Illinois, theorize it may be vanadium's metal-related shape or itsability to inhibit tyrosine phosphatases, which help to modulatesignaling proteins, in the immune system. Freund and colleagues lastyear documented a connection between serine phosphorylation andanti-inflammatory cytokines.
"Diabetes affects millions of people," Freund said. "It is hardto overcome many of the problems in a nutritionally dependent fashion.This research implies that metals that are trace elements may have moreimportance than we realize to human health, not only in preventingdiseases but also in making you feel better."
It's possible, Johnson said, that takingvanadyl-sulfate-containing supplements beginning two weeks beforepossible exposure to gram-negative organisms might help speed recoveryfrom subsequent infection.
Co-authors with Freund and Johnson were Jason C. O'Connor, apostdoctoral researcher in animal sciences, and Robert Dantzer, anadjunct professor in the department of animal sciences and professor atthe French National Center for Scientific Research.
The National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association and U. of I. Agricultural Experiment Station funded the research.
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