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Vanadium appears to play
role in speeding recovery from infections
Life Sciences Editor
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —
Dietary supplements containing vanadium are used by body builders to
help beef up muscles and by some diabetic people to control blood sugar.
New research now suggests the naturally occurring but easily toxic element
may help prepare the body to recover speedily from 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 encouraged and why people
with diabetes tend to have lingering behavioral symptoms such as fatigue
and apathy long after many infections end.
Their latest research found that mice given vanadium – in its
typical vanadyl sulfate form – before exposure to a pathogen sped
recovery in both diabetic and non-diabetic animals. They also tested
pre-treatment with insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which vanadium
mimics, but only the non-diabetic mice recovered quickly after exposure.
The new paper appears on line this week ahead of regular journal publication
in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers Daniel R. Johnson, a doctoral student, and Dr. Gregory Freund,
head of the pathology department in the College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign, don’t suggest adding vanadium supplements
to everyday diets. However, they said, the findings raise questions
about just how it works and how it might be useful in speeding recovery.
The amount of vanadium used in the study was comparable to that found
in nutritional supplements. While its nutritional value is unclear,
the body needs an estimated 10 to 20 micrograms a day and obtains it
mostly from plant material. Vanadium in much higher levels becomes toxic.
Its use for building muscles has not been confirmed, but vanadium has
improved insulin sensitivity and reduced blood sugar in diabetic people.
In their research, Johnson first administered a low dose of lipopolysaccharide
(LPS), a molecule present on E. coli and other gram-negative bacteria,
to both diabetic and non-diabetic mice after they had been given IGF-1.
Non-diabetic mice recovered more quickly than diabetic mice, suggesting,
he said, an insulin resistance state in the diabetic animals.
Next, experimental mice were pre-treated with vanadyl sulfate before
exposure to LPS. Recovery after illness of the vanadium-treated mice,
diabetic or not, was 50 percent faster than that of the untreated control
“With vanadyl sulfate being like IGF-1, we expected to see resistance
in the diabetic animals, but we didn’t see that,” Johnson
said. “We saw similar improvement. Thus it must have been acting
through a different pathway than do IGF-1 or insulin.”
Johnson and Freund, also an adjunct professor of animal
sciences and a researcher in the immunophysiology and behavior program
at Illinois, theorize it may be vanadium’s metal-related shape
or its ability to inhibit tyrosine phosphatases, which help to modulate
signaling proteins, in the immune system. Freund and colleagues last
year documented a connection between serine phosphorylation and anti-inflammatory
“Diabetes affects millions of people,” Freund said. “It
is hard to overcome many of the problems in a nutritionally dependent
fashion. This research implies that metals that are trace elements may
have more importance than we realize to human health, not only in preventing
diseases but also in making you feel better.”
It’s possible, Johnson said, that taking vanadyl-sulfate-containing
supplements beginning two weeks before possible exposure to gram-negative
organisms might help speed recovery from subsequent infection.
Co-authors with Freund and Johnson were Jason C. O’Connor, a postdoctoral
researcher in animal sciences, and Robert Dantzer, an adjunct professor
in the department of animal sciences and professor at the French National
Center for Scientific Research.
The National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association and U.
of I. Agricultural Experiment
Station funded the research.