The effectiveness of tuberculosis drugs dramatically increases when taken with vitamin C

Tuberculosis is a serious problem, killing 1.7 million people around the world in 2016 and sickening many others. One reason it can be so deadly is because treatment with drugs can take six months or even longer as cells linger. The multidrug variety can take up to two years to treat, and the drugs used bring with them a host of serious side effects. Thankfully, researchers have discovered a simple and affordable way to make tuberculosis drugs work significantly faster, and all it takes is a simple vitamin we’re all familiar with: vitamin C.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine carried out studies in live mice as well as human tissue cultures to explore how vitamin C can impact tuberculosis treatment. They treated mice who had tuberculosis with standard tuberculosis drugs, vitamin C, or both and then tested them at four and six weeks after the treatment. Although they found that vitamin C did not have any effects on its own, the story was much different when it was administered alongside first-line TB drugs like isoniazid and irifampicin. It reduced TB levels far faster in those mice than the ones who took the drugs without the vitamin.

When they followed a similar protocol using infected tissue cultures, the results were also quite promising, with healing times dropping by an entire week. Therefore, they concluded that adding vitamin C to typical tuberculosis treatments makes them more effective.

They believe the vitamin works by stimulating Mycobacterium tuberculosis cells’ respiration, boosting their vulnerability to the action of the tuberculosis drugs. It could also be reducing the formation of persisters, which are Mycobacterium tuberculosis cells that are resistant to treatment and are believed to play a role in the development of mutant drug-resistant strains of the illness.

Previous studies have shown that high levels of vitamin C can actively kill cells that are dividing, but lower amounts of the vitamin were found to be less effective.

Vitamin D can also prevent and treat tuberculosis

Vitamin C isn’t the only nutrient that can come to the rescue of those with tuberculosis; vitamin D has also been shown to help prevent and treat the illness. In a study published in the journal Science, researchers showed that Vitamin D spurred an intense immune response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis and supported a peptide that destroys the bacteria.

Like vitamin C, it has also been shown to shorten the duration of the illness. In a study in Indonesia of 67 tuberculosis patients over the course of eight months, 100 percent of those in the group that was given vitamin D showed a significant improvement; just 76.7 percent of those in the placebo group could say the same.

Perhaps that’s why heliotherapy, or sunshine therapy, has long been prescribed to people with tuberculosis, as has the vitamin D-rich cod liver oil. Because vitamin D is synthesized in your skin with sun exposure, patients in the 19th and early 20th centuries were often told to lie down in the sun regardless of the time of year or sent to sanatoriums in places like Switzerland to get this type of treatment.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that nature has given us what we need to solve some of the deadliest diseases of our time. Vitamin C – readily available in foods like broccoli, kiwis, red peppers and guava – and vitamin D, which you can easily boost simply by spending some time outdoors without sunscreen, are cheap and accessible ways of fighting tuberculosis and other illnesses.

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