Photo of beets and beet greens
Beets are an excellent food source of vitamin B3

Vitamin B3 – our newest weapon against ‘superbugs’?

28 August, 2012

Natural Health News — A common vitamin may turn out to be a powerful weapon to fight certain antibiotic-resistant  ‘superbugs’ that health experts see as a threat to public health.

In laboratory tests scientists found that a form of vitamin B3, nicotinamide, increased by up to 1,000 fold the ability of the immune system to kill Staph bacteria.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, grew from the findings of a study into a rare genetic blood disorder called neutrophil-specific granule deficiency.

This disease is caused by a mutation in a specific gene, CEBPE, that regulates several antimicrobial factors in the body. Sufferers have significantly weakened immune systems, leaving them prone to severe, chronic and life-threatening infections, including Staph.

In their further investigations the researchers found that high doses of the nicotinamide form of vitamin B3 stimulated the CEBPE gene, enhancing white blood cells’ ability to combat Staph infections, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA in the test animals.

When studied in human blood, clinical doses of the vitamin appeared to virtually wipe out the Staph infection in only a few hours.

According to the researchers: “In an age when the number of antibiotics in the pipeline is limited and development of resistance occurs rapidly, use of complementary strategies to antibiotic treatment would provide a method of limiting development of antibiotic resistance.

What is B3?

Vitamin B3 is common known as niacin, however it has two other forms as well, niacinamide (nicotinamide) and inositol hexanicotinate, each of which have different effects from niacin.

At very high doses B3 supplements have been shown to have a negative effect on liver and stomach health. In any case B vitamin supplements should not be taken in isolation but instead as part of the entire B-complex, since all work together synergistically.

The best food sources of vitamin B3 are found in beets, brewer’s yeast, beef liver, beef kidney, fish, salmon, swordfish, tuna, sunflower seeds, peanuts and shitake mushrooms. Bread and cereals can be fortified with niacin. In addition, foods that contain tryptophan, an amino acid the body coverts into niacin, include poultry, red meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Superbugs on the rise

Superbugs are on the rise not just in hospitals and nursing homes, but also in prisons, the military and among athletes.

Staph infections commonly cause serious, sometimes life-threatening illness. Health officials fear that indiscriminate use of antibiotics has undercut their effectiveness, leading to the rapid rise and threatening spread of resistant germs. This research is in its early days but, says lead researcher George Liu, MD, PhD, a paediatric infectious disease physician at Cedars-Sinai’s Maxine Dunitz Children’s Health Center:

“It’s critical that we find novel antimicrobial approaches to treat infection and not rely so heavily on antibiotics. That’s why this discovery is so exciting. Our research indicates this common vitamin is potentially effective in fighting off and protecting against one of today’s most concerning public health threats.”

Formal testing in clinical trials with humans is called for, say the researchers. “There’s more research to be done,” adds co-researcher Phillip Koeffler, MD, professor of medicine at Cedars-Sinai, “but we believe that vitamin B3, and other compounds that are able to increase the activity of this particular gene, have the potential to be effective against other antibiotic-resistant bacteria in addition to strains of Staph,” he said.