Cochrane Summaries

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Nutritional supplements for people being treated for active tuberculosis

Sinclair D, Abba K, Grobler L, Sudarsanam TD
Published Online: 
9 November 2011

Researchers in The Cochrane Collaboration conducted a review of the effects of nutritional supplements for people being treated for tuberculosis. After searching for relevant studies, they identified 23 relevant articles. Their findings are summarized below.

What is tuberculosis and how might nutritional supplements work?

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection which most commonly affects the lungs. Most people who get infected never develop symptoms as their immune system manages to control the bacteria. Active tuberculosis occurs when the infection is no longer contained by the immune system, and typical symptoms are cough, chest pain, fever, night sweats, weight loss, and sometimes coughing up blood. Treatment is with a combination of antibiotic drugs, which must be taken for at least six months.

People with tuberculosis are often malnourished, and malnourished people are at higher risk of developing tuberculosis as their immune system is weakened. Nutritional supplements could help people recover from the illness by strengthening their immune system, and by improving weight gain, and muscle strength, allowing the patient to return to an active life.

Good nutrition requires a daily intake of macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, and fat), and micronutrients (essential vitamins and minerals).

What the research says

Effect of providing nutritional supplements to people being treated for tuberculosis

We currently don't know if providing free food to tuberculosis patients, as hot meals or ration parcels, reduces death or improves cure. Providing free food probably does improve weight gain during treatment, and may improve quality of life but further research is necessary.

We don't know if vitamins reduce death in HIV-negative people but they probably don't work in HIV-positive people with tuberculosis. No studies have assessed whether vitamins improve tuberculosis cure. Vitamins probably don't improve weight gain, and no studies have assessed their effect on quality of life.