This 'super-charging' effect has been discovered as a way to treat people with cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that affects the lungs and digestive system, but it could be used as a new way to tackle superbugs.
Researchers from Queen's University Belfast have found that fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin E, make antibiotics effective against the superbug B. cenocepacia, which doesn't respond to the drugs and can cause severe lung infections in cystic fibrosis sufferers.
Proteins called lipocalins block the antibiotics by binding to them, but they instead latch onto the vitamins when they are taken with the drugs, leaving the antibiotics to reach the targeted bugs. As Prof Miguel Valvano, the lead researcher, explained: "Bacteria not only can resist the action of antibiotics, they also 'capture' them before they reach and penetrate the bacterial cells.
"Fat-soluble vitamins can soak up the lipocalins before they have a chance to bind the antibiotics, increasing the chances the antibiotics will reach the bacteria."