Is there a connection between trehalose, a natural sugar found in many foods, and Clostridioides difficile disease (CDD)?

There is experimental and epidemiological evidence that trehalose in the diet may enhance the virulence of the epidemic strains (eg. Ribotype 027) of C. difficile (1). 
Many of us may not be familiar with trehalose. It’s a disaccharide composed of 2 glucose molecules and found widely in nature, including bacteria, fungi (eg mushrooms, Brewer’s yeast), plants, insects, other invertebrates, but not vertebrates (2).

Since its approval by the FDA as a natural food additive in 2000, trehalose is increasingly used for its unique properties (including flavor enhancer and moisture stabilizer) in a variety of foods, including ice cream, pasta, ground beef, and sushi. Although in humans trehalose is enzymatically broken down to glucose by the brush borders of intestinal mucosa, intact trehalose is also found in the lower GI tract where C. difficile thrives.
In a series of intriguing experiments involving the interaction between trehulose and C. difficile published in Nature in 2018, Collins et al found that RT027 strain of C. difficile had acquired unique mechanisms to metabolize low concentrations of trehalose and that dietary trehalose increased its virulence associated with high mortality in a mouse model of infection even in the absence of antibiotic exposure. They further demonstrated that when human diet was simulated (eg, at concentrations suggested in ice cream), trehalose levels in the cecum of the mice were sufficient to induce production of the enzyme phosphotrehalase by the same strain in vitro by over 400X in the absence of antibiotics and by over 1000X in the presence of antibiotics. Similar results were found in the ileostomy fluid samples of 2 of 3 volunteers consuming normal diet (1). 
Equally fascinating is the epidemiological evidence that the timelines of trehalose adoption as a food additive in 2000, subsequent uptick in the number CDDs in the US, as well as the spread of RT027 strain in many countries seem to overlap (1).

These observations may at least partially explain the frequently severe nature of CDD during the past 2 decades as well why a significant proportion (up to a-third) of patient with CDD appear to have no recent exposure to antibiotics or hospitalization (3-5).  An epidemiological study examining the dietary habits of patients with CDD without apparent risk factors is in order. Stay tuned!
Bonus Pearl: Did you know that trehalose is classified as “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS)  natural food additive by the FDA and may be listed as “added sugar” or “natural flavor” on the food packaging?

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1. Collins J, Robinson C, Danhof H, et al. Dietary trehalose enhances virulence of epidemic Clostridium difficile. Nature 2018;553;291-96.
2. Avonce N, Mendoza-Vargas A, Morett E, et al. Insights on the evolution of trehalose biosynthesis. BMC Evol Biol 2006;6:109.
3. Wilcox MH, Mooney L, Bendall R, Settle CD et al. A case-control study of community-associated Clostridium difficile infection. J Antimicrob Chemother 2008;62:388-96.
4. Severe Clostridium difficile-associated disease in populations previously at low risk. MMWR2005;54:1201-5.
5. Halvorson SAC, Cedfeldt AS, Hunter AJ. Fulminant, non-antibiotic associated Clostridium difficile colitis following Salmonella gastroenteritis. J Gen Intern Med 2010;26:95-7.

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!


Is there a connection between trehalose, a natural sugar found in many foods, and Clostridioides difficile disease (CDD)?

Should my patient with compensated heart failure be placed on a sodium-restricted diet?

Although sodium restriction is routinely recommended for patients with heart failure (HF), the data is often conflicting with a number of studies even suggesting that it may be harmful in some patients.

Two randomized trials (by the same group) involving patients with compensated HF recently discharged from the hospital reported that “less restricted” sodium diet (2.8 gm/d) along with fluid restriction (1 L/day) and high dose furosemide (at least 125-250 mg furosemide twice daily) was associated with less rates of readmissions and improved levels of brain natriuretic peptide, aldosterone and plasma renin activity compared to patients on more restricted sodium diet (1.8 gm/d). 1,2

Analysis of data from the multihospital HF Adherence and Retention Trial enrolling New York Heart Association functional class II/III HF patients found that sodium restriction (<2.5 gm/d) was associated with significantly higher risk of death or HF hospitalization but only in patients not on an angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor (ACEI) or angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB). 3

In normal subjects who are not sodium deprived, excess sodium intake has been shown to cause expansion of intravascular volume without increasing total body water. 4 Thus, sodium restriction combined with diuretics may reduce intravascular volume and renal perfusion, further stimulating the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system and fluid retention. 5

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that the 2013 American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association guidelines downgraded the recommendation for sodium restriction to Class IIa (reasonable) with Level of Evidence:C? 6


  1. Paterna S, Gaspare P, Fasullo S, et al. Normal-sodium diet compared with low-sodium diet in compensated congestive heart failure: is sodium an old enemy or a new friend? Clin Sci 2008;114:221-230.
  2. Paterna S, Parrinello G, Cannizzaro S, et al. Medium term effects of different dosage of diuretic, sodium, and fluid administration on neurohormonal and clinical outcome in patients with recently compensated heart failure. Am J Cardiol 2009;103:93-102.
  3. Doukky R, Avery E, Mangla A, et al.Impact of dietary sodium restriction on heart failure outcomes. J Am Coll Cariol HF 2016;4:24-35.
  4. Heer M, Baisch F, Kropp J et al. High dietary sodium chloride consumption may not induce body fluid retention in humans. Am J Physiol Renal Physiol 2000;278:F585-F595.
  5. Rothberg MB, Sivalingam SK. The new heart failure diet: less salt restriction, more micronutrients. J Gen Intern Med 25;1136-7.
  6. Yancy CW, Jessup M, Bozkurt B, et al. 2013 CCF/AHA guideline for the management of heart failure: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol 2013;62:e147-239.

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Should my patient with compensated heart failure be placed on a sodium-restricted diet?