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 element may help prepare the body to recover speedily from infections from gram-negative organisms such as E. coli.

Researchers 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.

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. It has improved insulin sensitivity and reduced blood sugar in diabetic people.

Researcher Dr Gregory Freund theorizes 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.

“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.”

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Oct 12, 2005