Vitamin D, cod liver oil, sunshine, and phototherapy: Safe, effective and forgotten tools for treating and curing tuberculosis infections - A comprehensive review

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2018 Mar;177:21-29. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2017.07.027. Epub 2017 Jul 26.


Tuberculosis remains an epidemic throughout the world, with over 2 billion people, or more than one third of the world's population, infected with TB. In 2015, there were an estimated 10.4 million new cases of tuberculosis, and 1.8 million deaths, making TB one of the top ten causes of death worldwide. Approximately 95% of new TB cases occur in developing countries, where the costs of treatment force many patients and their families into poverty. The United Nations and the World Health Organization are working to end this global epidemic. Historically, cod liver oil in the 1840's, phototherapy in the 1890's, sunshine in the 1890's and 1930's, oral vitamin D in doses of 100,000-150,000 international units a day the 1940's, and injectable vitamin D in the 1940's were all shown to be able to safely treat tuberculosis. However, for reasons that are unclear, these treatments are no longer being used to treat tuberculosis. We will review several reports that documented the clinical efficacy of these seemingly disparate treatments in treating tuberculosis. Taken together, however, these reports show the consistent efficacy of vitamin D in treating tuberculosis infections, regardless of whether the vitamin D was produced in the skin from the effects of phototherapy or sunshine, taken orally as a pill or in cod-liver oil, or put into solution and injected directly into the body. We will discuss how vitamin D, through its action as a steroid hormone that regulates gene transcription in cells and tissues throughout the body, enables the body to eradicate TB by stimulating the formation of a natural antibiotic in white blood cells, the mechanism of which was discovered in 2006. We will speculate as to why vitamin D, cod liver oil, sunshine, and phototherapy are no longer being used to treat tuberculosis, in spite of their proven efficacy in safely treating this disease dating back to the early 1800's. In fact, in 1903 the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology was awarded to a physician who was able to cure hundreds of cases of long-standing lupus vulgaris (cutaneous TB) with refracted light rays from an electric arc lamp. Vitamin D, cod liver oil, sunshine, and phototherapy have never been shown to lose their ability to safely eradicate tuberculosis infections, and deserve consideration to be re-examined as first-line treatments for tuberculosis. These treatments have the potential to help cost-effectively and safely end the global TB epidemic.

Keywords: Calciferol; Calcitriol; Cod liver oil; Lupus vulgaris; Oral vitamin D; Phototherapy; Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D3; Sunshine; Tuberculosis; UVB-phototherapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cod Liver Oil / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Phototherapy*
  • Sunlight
  • Tuberculosis / therapy*
  • Vitamin D / therapeutic use*
  • Vitamins / therapeutic use*


  • Vitamins
  • Vitamin D
  • Cod Liver Oil