Background: Hypocholesterolemia is common among tuberculous patients and is associated with mortality in miliary cases. Some in vitro studies have shown that cholesterol is necessary for the good functioning of macrophages and lymphocytes.
Study objectives: To determine whether a cholesterol-rich diet could accelerate sputum sterilization in patients with pulmonary tuberculosis.
Design: An 8-week follow-up, randomized, controlled trial carried out from March 2001 to January 2002.
Setting: A third-level hospital for respiratory diseases in Mexico City.
Patients and interventions: Adult patients with newly diagnosed pulmonary tuberculosis were hospitalized for 8 weeks and randomly assigned to receive a cholesterol-rich diet (800 mg/d cholesterol [experimental group]) or a normal diet (250 mg/d cholesterol [control group]). All patients received the same four-drug antitubercular regimen (ie, isoniazid, rifampin, pyrazinamide, and ethambutol).
Measurements and results: Every week, a quantitative sputum culture and laboratory tests were done and respiratory symptoms were recorded. Patients in the experimental group (10 patients) and the control group (11 subjects) were HIV-negative and harbored Mycobacterium tuberculosis that was fully sensitive to antitubercular drugs. Sterilization of the sputum culture was achieved faster in the experimental group, as demonstrated either by the percentage of negative culture findings in week 2 (80%; control group, 9%; p = 0.0019) or by the Gehan-Breslow test for Kaplan-Meier curves (p = 0.0037). Likewise, the bacillary population decreased faster (p = 0.0002) in the experimental group. Respiratory symptoms improved in both groups, but sputum production decreased faster in the experimental group (p < 0.05). Laboratory test results did not differ between the groups.
Conclusions: A cholesterol-rich diet accelerated the sterilization rate of sputum cultures in pulmonary tuberculosis patients, suggesting that cholesterol should be used as a complementary measure in antitubercular treatment.