A sugar additive used in several foods may have helped spread a very dangerous superbug in the United States, according to a 2018 study.
The finger of blame is specifically aimed at sugar trehalose, which is found in foods such as nutrition bars & chewing gum.
If the results are confirmed, it’s a stark warning that even seemingly harmless additives have potential to cause health problems when introduced into our food-supply.
In this case, trehalose is linked to the increase of two strains of bacterium Clostridium difficile, capable of causing diarrhea, colitis, organ failure & even death.
The rapid rise of the antibiotic resistant bug has become a huge problem for hospitals in recent years & timing match-up with arrival of trehalose.
“In 2000, trehalose was approved as a food additive in United States for many foods, from sushi & vegetables to ice cream,” said one of the researchers, Robert Britton from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. , in January 2018.
“About 3 years later, reports of outbreaks with these lineages started to increase. Other factors may be contributing as well, but we believe trehalose is a key trigger.
The C. difficiles lineages Britton refers to are RT027 and RT078. When the researchers analyzed the genomes of these 2 strains, they found DNA sequences that allowed them to feed off-low-doses of trehalose sugar efficiently.
In fact, these particular bacteria need about 1000 times less trehalose to live-off than-other varieties of C. difficile, thanks to their genetic makeup.
To test their findings, the scientists experimented with mice that received the RT027 strain. In the group that received low doses of trehalose, the death rate was much higher, not because of more bacteria, the scientists found, but because the sugar allowed them to produce more poisonous toxins.
Further tests on fluids from 3 human intestines showed that RT027 was able to grow from small amounts of trehalose, unlike other strains of bacteria.
It is not yet certain that Trehalose has contributed to the increase in C. difficile, but the results of the study and the tim-ing of its approval as additive are pretty compelling. Further research will be needed to confirm the link.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, recorded in 2011, C. difficile was responsible for half a million infections during the year & 29,000 deaths in the first 30 days of diagnosis. Hopefully this new research can help us find ways to fight-back against it.
“These lineages have been present in humans for years without causing major epidemics,” explains researcher James Collins from Baylor College of Medicine.
“In the 1980s, they were not epidemic or hypervirulent, but after the year 2000, they started predominate & causing big epidemics.
“An important contribution of this study is realization that what we once considered to be perfectly safe sugar for human consumption can have unintended consequences.