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Newly-emerging superbug is evolving to thrive in those following a SUGAR-RICH diet, caution researchers

Superbugs are considered one of the most serious threats to human health in modern times. Attributed to excessive use of antibiotics, superbugs are also rendering antibiotics useless. Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that infects the gut and is the leading cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea worldwide. Findings from a study published in the journal Nature Genetics suggest that C. difficile is evolving and it can now thrive in people following a Western-style diet, which is full of sugary foods and drinks.

Antibiotics, C. difficile infections and your gut

If you’re generally healthy and not taking antibiotics, the good bacteria in your gut are helping to keep C. difficile under control.

But if you’re in medical care and required to take antibiotics, your medication can eliminate even the good bacteria that promote gut health. This leaves you vulnerable to C. difficile infection in the gut.

C. difficile infection can be hard to treat, and it causes symptoms like bowel inflammation and severe diarrhea.

Diarrhea, the most common symptom of C. difficile infection, is often watery. In contrast, antibiotic-associated diarrhea may be bloody and cause abdominal pain or cramps.

Other symptoms of C. difficile infection include:

  • Feeling poorly
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Severe C. difficile infection may cause fever and abdominal distension or tenderness. C. difficile is commonly found in hospital environments, and its resistant spores can be left behind on surfaces, making it spread easily between people.

Diets and evolving infections

The present study, conducted by an international team of researchers, is the largest ever genomic study on C. difficile.

For their experiment, the scientists collected and cultured 906 strains of C. difficile isolated from humans, animals (e.g., dogs, pigs and horses) and the environment. They then sequenced the DNA of each strain.

Nitin Kumar, the study’s first author, said that after comparing and analyzing all the genomes, they discovered that C. difficile is evolving into a new species.

Kumar also said that large-scale genetic analysis helped them identify a new species that can quickly spread in hospital environments. This species, called C. difficile clade A, first appeared thousands of years ago and is responsible for more than two-thirds of healthcare-related C. difficile infections. In fact, their data indicates that C. difficile clade A is present in at least 70 percent of the samples obtained from hospital patients.

Because the species had changes in genes involved in metabolizing simple sugars, the researchers decided to study it in animals. They found that C. difficile clade A colonized mice better when the animals were fed a diet rich in sugar. (Related: Sugar alternative is NOT so healthy after all: Trehalose, a substitute used in many processed foods, is giving rise to a superbug, severe disease, study warns.)

Trevor Lawley, the study’s senior author, said that C. difficile clade A also showed changes in genes involved in forming spores. These changes allowed it to have a stronger resistance to common hospital disinfectants.

Due to these changes, this evolved strain of C. difficile has an easier time spreading in healthcare environments than the original bacterium. The study provides genome and laboratory-based evidence that lifestyle habits can make bacteria evolve to form new species so they can spread more efficiently.

The researchers concluded that making dietary changes and developing new disinfectants could help prevent the spread of this new strain of C. difficile.

What to eat and what to avoid to prevent C. difficile infections

To recover more quickly while being treated for a C. difficile infection, add these nutrients and superfoods to your diet:

  • Calcium from almond, flax and hemp milk
  • Fiber from flaxseed, lentils, oatmeal and oranges
  • Probiotics in active yogurt cultures and fermented foods (e.g., miso and sauerkraut)
  • Liquids like water and broth-based soups
  • Non-cruciferous vegetables like beets, celery, cucumbers, green beans and zucchini

During and after C. difficile infection, it’s best to avoid the following foods to prevent symptoms like cramping, gas or stomach distress:

  • Beans
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower
  • Food with a high fat content, like mayonnaise
  • Fried or greasy food
  • Raw vegetables
  • Spicy food

Follow a well-balanced diet, limit your sugar intake and know what kinds of foods to avoid and what to eat to prevent C. difficile infections.

Sources include:

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