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TB drugs may be disrupted by botanical supplement, MU researchers find

Sutherlandia is a botanical used to treat infections in Africa, although researches found it may be rendering a drug used to fight off TB less effective.
Sutherlandia is a botanical used to treat infections in Africa, although researches found it may be rendering a drug used to fight off TB less effective. MU News Bureau

University of Missouri researchers have found that some botanical supplements could do more harm than good because they reduce the effectiveness of prescription medications.

Botanical supplements are used by people around the world to treat a wide range of physical and mental ailments. Some of the supplements have high levels of antioxidants that could have positive health benefits for certain conditions.

But MU researchers, working with scientists in Africa, discovered that a widely used African botanical supplement called Sutherlandia — traditionally taken to prevent or treat symptoms of infections — may actually disrupt the effectiveness of a common anti-tuberculosis drug.

That’s dangerous because blocking the affects of this medication, in this case, could lead to the development of active tuberculosis and perhaps drug-resistant forms of the pathogen in some patients.

Tuberculosis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can quickly spread.

William Folk is a professor of biochemistry in the MU School of Medicine and College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. He and other researchers made the discovery while monitoring South African patients who were taking either Sutherlandia or a placebo, along with the world-standard anti-tuberculosis drug, isoniazid.

“We believe that the antioxidants in Sutherlandia can directly disrupt how Isoniazid functions within the body to prevent tuberculosis,” Folk said in a university release on the findings. Patients taking the Sutherlandia supplement developed tuberculosis despite taking Isoniazid, which Folk said is very reliable in preventing tuberculosis.

“More than one-third of the world’s population is susceptible to active tuberculosis,” Folk said. “It is unfortunate that Sutherlandia, which traditionally is taken to prevent or treat infections, can actually cause them to develop the disease, and perhaps also cause the microbe to become a drug-resistant ‘super bug.’ 

And he said the same situation could apply to other botanical supplements when paired with different medications, including cancer-fighting drugs.

“With so many people around the world turning to botanical supplements to help with a wide range of health issues, it is vital that we explore how these supplements interact with established medical drugs,” Folk said.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc

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