Superbug warning over ‘unexpected consequences’ of common sugar alternative

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The warning comes after a study published in Nature Journal identified trehalose, which is found in foods such as nutrition bars and chewing gum, as playing a part in spreading a dangerous superbug across the US. Trehalose has been linked with the rise of two strains of the bacterium clostridium difficile, which is a deadly superbug capable of resisting antibiotic medications.

Clostridium difficile, is known for causing diarrhoea, colitis, organ failure, and even death.

The researchers found a link between the rapid spread of the superbug in the past few years and the increased usage of trehalose in many sweet snacks.

According to ​​Robert Britton from the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas: “In 2000, trehalose was approved as a food additive in the US for a number of foods from sushi and vegetables to ice cream.”

Dr Britton, who is one of the researchers in the study, said: “About three years later the reports of outbreaks with these lineages started to increase

“Other factors may also contribute, but we think that trehalose is a key trigger.”

These “lineages” that Dr Britton referred to were the strains of the bacteria called RT027 and RT078.

When scientists analysed the genetic makeup of these strains, they discovered DNA sequences that enabled the bug to feed off low doses of trehalose sugar very efficiently.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, C. difficile is a major cause of infectious disease-related death in the United States.

In 2015, the CDC reported that C. difficile was responsible for causing almost a half-million infections in patients in a year and 29,000 estimated deaths.

The bacteria cause life-threatening inflammation of the colon and diarrhoea.

While patients who are 65 years and older are at most risk, most infections occur in people who have received medical care and antibiotics, making this a deadly superbug.

The researchers found that inside human intestine, RT027 was able to grow from small amounts of trehalose, while other bacteria strains weren’t.

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Another researcher, Dr. James Collins from the Baylor College of Medicine that this bacteria has been prevalent for a long time without any major outbreaks.

Due to the fact that the genetic factors that allow these bacteria to metabolize trehalose and increase the production of toxins were present well before the outbreaks started, the researchers investigated what could have triggered the epidemics.

Dr Collins added: “In the 1980s they were not epidemic or hypervirulent but after the year 2000 they began to predominate and cause major outbreaks.

“An important contribution of this study is the realisation that what we once considered a perfectly safe sugar for human consumption, can have unexpected consequences.”

Trehalose is commonly used in prepared frozen foods, like ice cream, because it lowers the freezing point of foods.

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