While there are options for the treatment of drug-resistant TB strains, these options are much harder on the body and don’t always work, leaving patients and doctors alike scrambling to find alternative treatment options.
One of the most popular and exciting new possibilities is probably sitting in your spice cabinet right now, at least if you’re a fan of curry. Turmeric, which has been tied to multiple health benefits, is also now being studied as a possible treatment option for drug-resistant strains of TB.
Is this another piece of homeopathic nonsense, or is turmeric the break that researchers have been looking for in the struggle to defeat drug-resistant TB? That’s the key question.
The Benefits of Turmeric
Aside from being tasty, turmeric and its active ingredient, curcumin, have been found to have a number of benefits, from their well-documented anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, to other studies that suggest that a diet high in curcumins can help protect the body from brain and heart diseases.
A 2014 study also found turmeric can be used to help reduce the effects of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, as well.
Unfortunately, while the positive benefits of turmeric have been studied over and over again, all of the trials up to this point have been restricted to petri dishes and rodent experiments, and have not made their way into human trials as of yet.
The only problem with all of these amazing discoveries is it’s nearly impossible to get enough curcumins in your diet by simply eating Indian curries or other recipes that include turmeric. To get the proper concentration of curcumins would require taking a concentrated extract, which can be found in health food stores and online on sites like Amazon.com.
Turmeric and TB
While virulent, at its heart TB is a bacterial infection and as such relies on immune cells called macrophages to fight the bacteria in the lungs.
The current study is still based in the lab setting. It found the curcumin helps to stimulate white blood cells to the point where they can remove the TB bacteria, or mycobacterium tuberculosis, from cells that were artificially infected.
Turmeric and Current Treatments
Current TB treatments require that patients take a variety of antibiotics, including:
All three of these medications, while effective, have been known to cause severe liver damage and even liver failure in extreme cases.
Recent studies have found by feeding turmeric to guinea pigs, researchers were able to reduce the signs of damage caused by the drugs and worked to prevent the high levels of liver enzymes that are caused by the treatment.
Why is This Important?
The CDC estimates between 9 and 12 million people are TB-infected and asymptomatic in the U.S., and TB it is still a very big problem in multiple countries around the world. 9.6 million people worldwide were infected by TB in 2014, and of those, 1.5 million died from the disease.
Approximately 5% of TB cases worldwide developed into the drug-resistant variety, due to treatment failure or because the patient has an already-compromised immune system. Only about 50% of patients who developed MDR-TB — multidrug resistant TB — were able to be diagnosed and treated successfully.
By adding curcumins to the treatment of TB and MDR-TB, researchers may be able to increase the treatment success rate exponentially.
Additionally, once we have a successful treatment regimen for TB and MDR-TB, it will enable us to reduce the overall prevalence of the disease, and its fatality rate.
A Difference of Life and Death
While the easiest way to prevent multidrug resistant TB is to follow any prescribed treatment plan to the letter, sometimes it is unavoidable. In those cases, introducing curcumins as an addition to TB treatment plans or as part of normal TB treatment can potentially help increase the efficacy of these treatments as well as possibly prevent the liver and organ damage caused by the powerful antibiotics that are normally used to treat TB.
All current studies in regard to curcumin/turmeric are still based in a lab setting, but with the growing prevalence of TB and MDR-TB in countries around the world and the resurgence of the disease in countries where it had previously been defeated, these studies should be revisited and moved into human trials as soon as possible.
Most of us, unless we work in the medical profession, don’t think of TB as something we’ll ever have to deal with. But for the people who do become infected with the disease, these studies could mean the difference between life and death, the difference between harsh treatments and liver damage, and getting successfully back to full health.