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Leprosy, tuberculosis, and peanuts


Nitric oxide is a natural part of the body’s immune defense. Linköping University researcher Thomas Schön has studied this compound in connection with the skin disease leprosy and the lung disease tuberculosis. The Swedish researcher has found that nitric oxide probably contributes to the disease in the case of leprosy but, on the other hand, plays a positive role in protecting against tuberculosis. This role can be reinforced by adding a supplement of arginine, which is found in peanuts, for example.

“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,” says Thomas Schön.

He has run field studies in Ethiopia, a country where leprosy and tuberculosis often occur. In Ethiopia he studied the results of 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.

“Arginine is found in peanuts, among other foods. Eating a supplement of peanuts should thus bolster the body’s defenses against tuberculosis. A simple food supplement like that may be a simple and cheap way to improve the treatment of the disease in poor countries,” says Thomas Schön. He hopes to be able to continue his research by testing this theory in practice.

Tuberculosis most often affects the lungs, killing more than two million people every year around the world. The disease has also reappeared in Sweden, partly because of the prevalence of antibiotics-resistant tubercular bacteria in the Baltic countries and Russia.

Ingela Björck | alfa
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