The increasing frequency of a superbug infection has been a problem around the world in recent years. A team of researchers found that a common dietary sugar additive evidently increases the severity of Clostridium difficile bacterium epidemic.

C. Difficile Epidemic

In the last 15 years, C. difficile has been the most common source of hospital-acquired infections in many developed countries. In fact, C. difficile has become a major source of infectious disease-linked deaths in the United States so much so that in 2015, the bacterium caused nearly half a million infections and approximately 29,000 deaths.

According to researchers of a new study, the RT027 and RT078 lineages of the C. difficile bacterium have become increasingly prevailing and severe in various parts of the world compared to the 1980s when they were commonly present in people but were not as severe and did not lead to outbreaks. However, they became major health concerns after the year 2000.

Common Food Additive Factor

To see what might be contributing to the severity of the superbugs, researchers fed mice with low trehalose and no trehalose diets, and gave them a strain of the RT027 lineage. Researchers found that RT027 and RT078 thrives on their food preference of trehalose, a common food additive, and utilizes the sugar quite efficiently. In fact, the mortality rate of the mice group which consumed trehalose was higher than that of the group which did not consume trehalose.

Interestingly, further experiments showed that the severity of the disease in presence of trehalose was not a result of an increased number of bacteria, but of the bacteria producing more toxins.

"An important contribution of this study is the realization that what we once considered a perfectly safe sugar for human consumption, can have unexpected consequences," said Dr. James Collins, first author of the study.

The study is published in the journal Nature.


Trehalose is a sugar composed of two glucose molecules. It can occur naturally although in small amounts in mushrooms, shrimps, lobsters, honey, seaweed, wine, beer, bread, and other food items using brewer's yeast. However, it could also be artificially produced with corn starch and several bacterial enzymes and can be used as a food stabilizer and texturizer. It is commonly used on dried food items, white chocolate, nutrition bars, sugar coating, fruit fillings, fruit juices, and bakery cream among others.

It is a source of energy that comes at about four calories per gram, and is considered a novel food in Europe and Australia, meaning that it still does not have a long history of safe usage. Still, it is commonly used and is approved in countries like New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. In the United States, trehalose is considered as "safe" by the U.S. Food and Drug administration (FDA).

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