(NaturalNews) As researchers continue the hunt for ways to stem the growing threat of the lethal superbug MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), one safe and easy remedy may be going overlooked: Vitamin B3, also known as niacin.
S. aureus is a natural part of healthy human skin and nose flora, but can cause infection if it is able to enter the body through a tear in the protective membranes. While many staph infections are fairly minor, serious cases can cause symptoms such as abscesses, boils and even necrosis (cell death, or "flesh-eating"), blood infections (sepsis) or pneumonia. Due to its resistance to antibiotics, MRSA is especially dangerous and now kills 19,000 people per year in the United States.
But staph infections may be prevented and eliminated by high doses of vitamin B3, according to a 2012 study conducted by researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The study stemmed from ongoing research into the components of the human immune system that help the body fight off infection. Researchers had previously discovered that a molecule known as C/EBPe appears to be responsible for some of the immune system's bacteria-fighting capability, and that people who lack C/EBPe are more prone to staph and other bacterial infections. Research has also shown that vitamin B3 increases the body's expression of C/EBPe.
In order to further explore this connection, the Cedars-Sinai researchers looked at both human blood and living mice. They found that mice who were deficient in C/EBPe were, as expected, more vulnerable to staph infection, but that when expression of C/EBPe was increased, the infection cleared more quickly.
Examining the role of vitamin B3, the researchers found that mice who were deficient in the vitamin suffered more severe infections. When mice were given high doses of vitamin B3 before being exposed to the bacteria, however, an infection still developed but cleared much more quickly.
The scale of this response "indicates that there's a dramatic inhibition" of bacteria caused by vitamin B3, researcher Adrian Gombart said.
When mice were treated with vitamin B3 after infection, the infection also cleared much more quickly. This only occurred, however, in mice that had adequate levels of both vitamin B3 and C/EBPe at the start of the study.
A new, safe treatment for MRSA?
In human blood, vitamin B3 triggered an immune response that quickly produced an attack on the staph cells and led to the infection being cleared. The vitamin treatment was particularly effective against antibiotic-resistant staph strains, the researchers found.
Vitamin B3 apparently strengthened the white blood cells called neutrophils, which specialize in engulfing and destroying bacterial cells. It's possible that vitamin B3 activates special bacteria-killing genes in the body, Gombart said.
"This could give us a new way to treat staph infections that can be deadly, and might be used in combination with current antibiotics," Gombart said. "It's a way to tap into the power of the innate immune system and stimulate it to provide a more powerful and natural immune response."
Combining vitamin B3 treatment with antibiotics might be an effective way to clear out hard-to-treat infections and slow the evolution of drug-resistant strains, he suggested.
"When there are multiple points of attack, it's always harder to develop resistance," he said.
Because the vitamin doses used in the study were so high, and because niacin may cause liver damage in extreme concentrations, a vitamin B3 treatment would need to be prescribed and administered by a doctor, Gombart said.