Scientists link modern food additive to explosion of C. diff

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Long-term care providers might want to be on the lookout for a specific sugar added to hundreds of foods — especially during C. diff outbreaks.

Two bacterial strains that have plagued healthcare facilities around the country may have been at least partly fueled by Trehalose, a naturally occurring sugar also used an an additive for taste and shelf-stability, scientists report in the journal Nature.

Trehalose, which is easily and cheaply extracted from corn starch, helps feed certain strains of Clostridium difficile. Researchers believe they are part of the reason those specific strains have become more virulent since 2000, which is the same year Trehalose was deemed safe by the FDA and began being pumped into everything from ground beef to ice cream.

The findings may have dietary staff looking more closely at their ingredient labels.

"What this work does suggest is that if a hospital or long-term nursing care facility has an outbreak of C. difficile caused by a RT027 or RT078 strain, then patients' diets should be modified to restrict trehalose consumption," study co-author Robert A. Britton, professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, told Medical News Today.

Scientists have been trying to figure out why certain strains became so successful in recent years, often focusing on the overuse of antibiotics as the potential culprit.

Britton and his fellow researchers decided to track two specific strains to determine which carbon-rich molecules they ate. They reported that both strains thrived on low concentrations of Trehalose.