Study: Salad Ingredient Kills Drug-Resistant TB

The main ingredient in vinegar killed a form of tuberculosis that had resisted antibiotics, a research team found.

Heinz Vinegar bottles sit on a grocery store shelf in 2009 in Bainbridge Township, Ohio. The active ingredient in vinegar, acetic acid, kills drug-resistant tuberculosis and other mycobacteria, researchers say.

The active ingredient in vinegar, acetic acid, can kill drug-resistant tuberculosis and other mycobacteria, researchers say.

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One of the world's oldest known disinfectants – and favorite salad dressings – may prove even stronger than previously thought.

An international research team has found that vinegar – or, more specifically, the active ingredient in vinegar – can kill mycobacteria, including a highly drug-resistant form of tuberculosis.

Researchers recently stumbled upon the finding when postdoctoral fellow Claudia Cortesia found that the ingredient, acetic acid, killed mycobacteria that she had been seeking to study in a lab.

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For thousands of years, vinegar has been used as a common disinfectant, but its potential role as a high-powered weapon against drug-resistant mycobacteria represents an important new finding, particularly for developing countries.

“There is a real need for less toxic and less expensive disinfectants that can eliminate TB and non-TB mycobacteria, especially in resource-poor countries,” said Howard Takiff, a senior author on the study and the head of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Investigations in Caracas.

Acetic acid – less toxic and corrosive than bleach – is also cheaper than other commercial disinfectants that kill tuberculosis, making it perhaps an appealing and effective disinfectant for hospitals, doctors' offices and labs in developing countries, where funds are low and mycobacteria are especially prevalent.

For now, the finding amounts to “an interesting observation,” Takiff said. "Whether it could be useful in the clinic or mycobacteriology labs for sterilizing medical equipment or disinfecting cultures or clinical specimens remains to be determined."

The study, co-authored by researchers from Venezuela, France and the United States, was published in the online journal mBio Tuesday.