A Swedish researcher has found that nitric oxide, naturally present in the body's immune system, may play a positive role in protecting against tuberculosis.
Thomas Schon, a researcher at Linkoping University in Sweden, studied the compound in connection with the skin disease leprosy and the lung disease tuberculosis. He found that while nitric oxide probably contributes to the onset of leprosy, it can help to protect against tuberculosis. This role can be reinforced by adding a supplement of arginine, found in peanuts, he said.
"The production of nitric oxide is high in both leprosy and tuberculosis patients. As regards leprosy, this nitric oxide can have a certain effect of killing off germs in the initial stages of the disease. But it does not always impede the development of the sickness, and in later stages it can even be seen as aggravating skin lesions," said Schon.
Schon carried out field studies in Ethiopia, a country where leprosy and tuberculosis often occur, using a synthetic dietary supplement of the amino acid arginine in tuberculosis patients.
Arginine is needed to maintain the body's production of nitric acid, and the supplemental arginine did in fact lead to a reduction of symptoms and a shorter contagious period among the Ethiopian patients, according to the researcher.
"Arginine is found in peanuts, among other foods. Eating a supplement of peanuts should thus bolster the body's defences against tuberculosis," explained Schon.
He added: "A simple food supplement like that may be a simple and cheap way to improve the treatment of the disease in poor countries."
Schon hopes to be able to continue his research by testing this theory in practice.
Tuberculosis usually affects the lungs, killing more than 2 million people every year around the world. The disease has also reappeared in Sweden, partly because of the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant tubercular bacteria in the Baltic countries and Russia.