Zero-calorie sweetener erythritol may elevate cardiovascular risk, study suggests
Artificial sweeteners are increasingly common food ingredients. They’re added to thousands of “sugar-free,” “low-carb” and “keto-friendly” processed prepackaged foods and beverages.
That’s despite the fact that very little is known about their long-term health effects.
Now, new research from the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute adds to growing evidence linking the consumption of artificial sweeteners to increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
The findings suggest that a zero-calorie sweetener called erythritol may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Here’s what to know.
What is erythritol?
Erythritol belongs to the family of sugar alcohols, or polyols, carbohydrates that occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. Small amounts are also synthesized by the body.
Sugar alcohols used as food additives are produced industrially; erythritol, for example, is made by fermenting glucose from corn. Sugar alcohols permitted for use in Canada include erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, lactitol and isomalt.
Sugar alcohols have a chemical structure similar to table sugar but they taste less sweet. Erythritol, for example, is about 70 per cent less sweet than sugar.
Erythritol is used to sweeten beverages, chewing gum, chocolate, candies, bakery products, protein bars and other snack foods. It’s also mixed with table-top sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit to add bulk and a sugar-like texture.
The Cleveland Clinic research
The study, published Feb. 27 online in the journal Nature Medicine, initially set out to identify unknown compounds in the blood that could increase the risk of heart attack, stroke or death in people at risk for cardiovascular disease.
The researchers examined blood samples of 1,157 patients undergoing elective cardiac risk assessment at the Cleveland Clinic and then tracked who had a heart attack or stroke or died over the next three years.
Erythritol was at the top of the list of compounds that predicted cardiovascular risk. Compared to people who had the lowest blood levels of erythritol, those who had the highest were twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
To confirm these results, the researchers analyzed blood samples from two other studies, one conducted in the U.S. and the other in Europe.
In both studies, blood levels of erythritol were higher in people who had cardiovascular disease. Higher levels were also found among participants in the U.S. study who had a heart attack or stroke during the study period.
Further experiments conducted in human blood and mice revealed that erythritol made it much easier for cells called platelets to clump together and form a blood clot. Heightened blood clotting can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
As part of the study, researchers recruited eight healthy volunteers to drink 300 ml of a beverage sweetened with 30 g of erythritol, an amount found in a serving of many foods containing erythritol.
Blood levels of erythritol increased by 1,000-fold and remained substantially elevated for more than two days in all participants. Notably, the elevated level of erythritol in the bloodstream was well above that which was observed to enhance blood clotting risk.
These findings are observational and do not prove that erythritol directly causes blood clots. They’re also preliminary.
The researchers emphasized the need for “further safety studies examining the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners in general, and erythritol specifically, on risks heart attack and stroke risk, especially in people already at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.” Initial human safety studies looked only at a four-week erythritol exposure.
Reading labels for sugar alcohols, erythritol
Health Canada, like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European Food Safety Authority, considers sugar alcohols, including erythritol, safe to add to foods. Consuming too much of a sugar alcohol, however, can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea. (Erythritol is easier on the digestive system than other sugar alcohols.)
To limit your intake of erythritol, which I recommend you do, read labels. If sugar alcohols are added to a food, their total content (in grams per serving) must the declared on the Nutrition Facts table as “Sugar Alcohols” or “Polyols.”
If a food product contains only one type of sugar alcohol, it can either be declared on the Nutrition Facts table individually by its name (e.g., “Erythritol,” “Xylitol”) or collectively as “Sugar Alcohols” or “Polyols.” However, individual sugar alcohols must be listed by their specific name on the ingredient list.
Indian man is world’s first person to contract plant fungus infection – WION
A 61-year-old Indian man from eastern Kolkata city became the first in the world to catch an infection from a plant fungus.
Doctors claimed that this is the first case of human infection by the microorganism, saying that it demonstrates the crossover of plant pathogen into humans when working in close contact with plant fungi.
The man, who worked as a plant mycologist and whose identity has not been revealed, had gone to Apollo Multispeciality Hospitals after complaining of hoarse voice, cough, fatigue, and difficulty in swallowing and anorexia for three months, according to journal Medical Mycology Case Reports.
While undergoing medical check-up, the CT-scan of his neck revealed that the man had a paratracheal abscess.
His pus samples were then sent for testing to the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference & Research on Fungi of Medical Importance.
It was later found that he had been infected with Chondrostereum purpureum – the same fungus that causes silver leaf disease in plants.
“Chondrostereum purpureum is a plant fungus that causes silver leaf disease in plants, particularly those in the rose family. This is the first instance of a plant fungus causing disease in a human. Conventional techniques (microscopy and culture) failed to identify the fungus,” the report added.
“Only through sequencing could the identity of this unusual pathogen be revealed. This case highlights the potential of environmental plant fungi to cause disease in humans and stresses the importance of molecular techniques to identify the causative fungal species,” it said.
The infection has alarmed health experts as it defied their understanding of the possibility of plant fungus infecting human beings.
Notably, the case resembles the events occurring in the hit show ‘The Last of Us’ – which is itself inspired by a real-life bacteria that turns ants into ‘zombies’ and can wipe out entire colonies.
In this case, it is said that the 61-year-old made a full recovery after receiving two antifungal medications for two months.
WATCH WION LIVE HERE
Heads up – wood ticks are out and about in the Thompson-Okanagan – Vernon News – Castanet.net
Tick season is back in the Okanagan.
Colin Kennedy came across one of the blood-suckers while taking a walk with his dog.
Kennedy was on the Test of Humanity Trail in Summerland last week and came home with an unwanted passenger – a wood tick.
“I just thought it would be good to report it so people start checking their dogs for ticks now that the weather is getting better,” Kennedy says.
Kennedy also reported the tick to eTick.
Anyone who has lived in the B.C. Interior for any length of time has likely had an encounter with a tick or knows someone who has.
They can be found year round, but are most likely to bite from March to June.
Ticks will lie in wait on a branch or tall grass, waiting for an unsuspecting person or animal to brush by. They then latch onto their victim and bury their heads under the skin.
Staying out of the woods is no guarantee you won’t encounter ticks.
Rob Higgins, an entomologist with the department of biological sciences at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, says the most common area to find ticks is on grasslands, but they can be found in urban environments as well.
“You can definitely pick them up in town, even when you think you’re walking in urban areas, because you’re brushing up against grasses on the side of the sidewalks,” he said.
If a tick has bitten you, Higgins says the best way to remove it is to take a pair of forceps or tweezers, slide them under the tick and pull backwards firmly – but not abruptly.
It will often take about 30 seconds of firm pressure to pull the tick out.
The variety most often found in B.C. is the Rocky Mountain wood tick.
Western black legged ticks, a species which Higgins said exists in low numbers in B.C., can carry Lyme disease. Each year, there are around a dozen Lyme cases discovered in the province, but about half those originate from outside the region.
Ticks can also carry other diseases, such as tick paralysis. According to Higgins, this disease mostly affects animals and he said vets and ranchers see cases each year.
Overall, it’s important to be careful, but most ticks in B.C. aren’t harmful.
“People don’t like ticks, fortunately here we don’t need to worry about them a great deal,” he said.
“You definitely want to remove them, you want to keep your eyes on your pets for symptoms of paralysis, but otherwise, we can consider the vast majority of them to be harmless.”
Have you had a close encounter of the insect kind? Email us a picture and we may feature it as Castanet’s Bug of the Week.
'Pandora's Box': Doctors Warn of Rising Plant Fungus Infections in People After 'First of Its Kind' Case – VICE
A man in India is the first human known to be infected by a fungus called Chondrostereum purpureum, a pathogen that is most well-known for causing a disease called silver leaf in plants, reports a new study.
The patient, who was 61 at the time of the diagnosis, made a full recovery and has not experienced any recurrence of the infection after two years of follow-up observations. However, this “first of its kind” case study exemplifies the risks that fungal pathogens pose for humans, especially now that climate change and other human activities like rampant urbanization, have opened a “Pandora’s Box for newer fungal diseases” by contributing to their spread, according to the study.
Fungal pathogens are having a pop culture moment because they are the source of a fictional disease depicted in apocalyptic game The Last of Us, which was recently adapted into the acclaimed HBO series of the same name. But these microbes are also a real-life scourge that infect about 150 million people every year, resulting in about 1.7 million deaths.
Though millions of fungal species exist, only a very small fraction of them are able to infect animals, including humans, because our bodies present challenges to these invaders such as high temperatures and sophisticated immune systems.
Soma Dutta and Ujjwayini Ray, doctors at Apollo Multispecialty Hospitals in Kolkata, India, have now added one more fungus to that small list of human invaders with their unprecedented report of a C. purpureum infection. The patient, a plant mycologist, had suffered from cough, fatigue, anorexia, and a throat abscess for months before his hospital visit, and was probably exposed to the fungus as a result of his profession.
When conventional techniques failed to diagnose the disease, the pathogen was sent to a World Health Organization center based in India where it was finally identified using DNA sequencing. The case “highlights the potential of environmental plant fungi to cause disease in humans and stresses the importance of molecular techniques to identify the causative fungal species,” according to their recent study in the journal Medical Mycology Case Reports.
“This is a first of its kind of a case wherein this plant fungus caused disease in a human,” Dutta and Ray said in the study. “This case report demonstrates the crossover of plant pathogens into humans when working in close contact with plant fungi. The cross-kingdom pathogenicity demands much work to be done in order to explore insights of the mechanisms involved, thus leading to possible recommendations to control and contain these infections.”
C. purpureum can infect a variety of different plants with silver leaf disease, an often fatal condition that is named after the color that the pathogen induces on the leaves on the hosts. It is the latest in a growing number of fungal pathogens that have infected humans, which are buoyed on in part by human activities, such as urbanization, travel, and commerce.
Human-driven climate change is also accelerating the spread of infectious diseases, including fungal pathogens, by allowing microbes to adapt to higher temperatures (like those in mammal bodies), expand their range, and interact with new hosts in the aftermath of extreme weather events. And though fungal diseases have maintained a lower profile in epidemiology compared to other pathogens, they may be more dangerous than viruses or bacteria in some contexts.
“While viral and bacterial diseases receive most attention as the potential cause of plagues and pandemics, fungi can arguably pose equal or even greater threats,” according to a 2021 study in PLoS Pathogens. “There are no vaccines available yet for fungal pathogens, the arsenal of antifungal agents is extremely limited, and fungi can live saprotrophically, producing large quantities of infectious spores and do not require host-to-host contact to establish infection. Indeed, fungi seem to be uniquely capable of causing complete host extinction.”
In addition to avoiding the spread of new fungal pathogens that can directly infect humans, researchers also point to the damage these diseases can deal to crops and ecosystems that people depend on. For this reason, Dutta and Ray recommend more research into the nature of these infections and strategies to mitigate their spread.
“Cross-kingdom human pathogens, and their potential plant reservoirs, have important implications for the emergence of infectious diseases,” Dutta and Ray said. “Fungi are also responsible for various infections in plants that cause destruction of millions of plants and crops” and “produce toxins that contaminate food and cause acute toxicity.”
“Over the past several decades multiple new pathogenic fungi have emerged,” they concluded. “A notable emergence of the multidrug resistant fungus Candida auris has spread all over the world and has become a significant threat. The worsening of global warming and other civilization activities opens Pandora’s Box for newer fungal diseases.”
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