sugar substitutes found in many supermarket foods that kill antibiotic resistant bacteria that cause pneumonia and sepsis
Three artificial sweeteners used in products such as diet drinks, yogurts and desserts significantly halt the growth of multidrug-resistant priority pathogens.
The additives not only deactivate the bacteria that cause several serious infections, but they also reduce the bacteria’s resistance to commonly used antibiotics, which means less is needed.
This discovery, published by the journal of the European Molecular Biology Organization Molecular medicinecould lead the fight against superbugs.
“Artificial sweeteners are present in all diet and sugar-free foods,” said Brunel University London bioscientist Dr Ronan McCarthy. “We found that those same sweeteners you have with your coffee or in your ‘sugar-free’ soda can kill very dangerous bacteria and make them easier to treat.
“It’s very exciting because normally it takes billions of dollars and decades to develop a new antibiotic, when we have found a compound that can not only fight pathogenic bacteria but also reverse its resistance to already existing antibiotics.”
Antibiotics have revolutionized the treatment of bacterial infections and have saved millions of lives. But the bacteria’s ability to survive and adapt, similar to that of rats, means that as soon as a new antibiotic is used, resistant “superbugs” appear. This repeating cycle occurs naturally, but overusing antibiotics and not disposing of them properly has made it worse.
“This has created a dangerous situation where a ‘post-antibiotic era’ is becoming a reality,” said Brunel study leader Dr. McCarthy. Inflammation and Translational Medicine Research Center. “It threatens every aspect of healthcare, from cancer treatment to dental care.”
Researchers have found that the sweeteners saccharin, cyclamate and acesulfame-K (called Ace-K) curb the two “priority pathogens” that the World Health Organization says are most in need of new antibiotic treatments.
Used in yogurts, diet drinks and desserts, Ace-K can completely stop the growth of two priority pathogens Acinetobacter baumannii and aeruginosa. Both are extremely dangerous for people who are seriously ill or have weakened immune systems, such as chemotherapy patients.
Focusing on Ace-K, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar, the team found it prevented pathogens from forming protective biofilms, which would typically help them stick around and cause chronic infections and develop resistance to antibiotics. And when used with antibiotics, Ace-K increased their killing power, meaning lower doses of antibiotics may be needed to treat a patient.
Currently working on further preclinical testing, the team says the three sweeteners could offer potential new treatments for multidrug-resistant infections and potentially be developed to replace antibiotics in certain situations.
“With this work,” said Dr. McCarthy, “we have found a potential weapon that can be used in the war against superbugs.”