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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 August, 2003, 23:09 GMT 00:09 UK
Fats 'help body fight TB'
TB bacterium
The TB bacterium disables the body's defences
Fats found in everyday diets could help the body fight against tuberculosis (TB), researchers have suggested.

Laboratory experiments found that various fats could help the body fight the TB bacteria.

It is not yet clear whether eating the fats could be used as a treatment for TB.

But researchers writing in Nature Cell Biology say further work should be carried out to find out more about how their properties could be used.

It's interesting as a phenomenon rather than as a likely treatment for TB
Professor Anthony Coates
There are around 8 million new cases of TB each year worldwide.

It kills around 2 million people, making it the leading cause of death from bacterial disease.


TB is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis which infects white blood cells.

The body has defence cells called macrophages which have to go through certain changes in order to release the enzymes and acids which destroy the bacteria.

It is known that TB prevents a key stage of this process, disabling the cells.

This latest research suggests certain fatty acids, such as arachidonic acid, found in meat, can prevent this disabling taking place, allowing the body's defence system to work efficiently.

But they also said omega-3 fats, found in oily fish, had a slightly negative effect on the body's ability to fight off bacteria.

The Portuguese and German researchers, writing in the journal Nature Cell Biology, said: "A more detailed analysis of the system using bioinfomatic approaches may also help to identify classes of lipids that may be more effective when used in combinations of in conjunction with antibiotics."

Anthony Coates, professor of microbiology at St George's Medical School in London, told BBC News Online said it was unlikely people could be told to eat certain foods to treat TB.

He said: "This is a very interesting paper, but it's interesting as a phenomenon rather than as a likely treatment for TB."

The research is published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

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