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HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - Lovers of red meat and milk may be more susceptible to a major strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli), which causes severe diarrhea, researchers in Australia said.
In an article published in Nature, they said red meat and cow's milk contain a type of sugar that the Shiga toxigenic E. coli bacterium binds readily to, making people sick.
"Frequent consumption of (red meat and milk) would allow incorporation of the sugar into our cells and when we eat meat infected with E. coli, it sensitizes our cells to attack by this toxin," said Travis Beddoe, a research fellow at the Protein Crystallography Unit of Australia's Monash University.
Using human gut and kidney tissues, the researchers found that toxins from E. coli would only bind to tissues that were flushed with the sugar.
"The toxins couldn't bind to human tissues in the absence of the sugar, but when we fed human cells with this (sugar) ... there was strong binding and increase in virulence and toxicity," Beddoe told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The sugars can reside anywhere along the human digestive tract, although they tend to concentrate in the stomach and kidneys -- sometimes for up to a few days.
"If we drink milk or have a lot of red meat intake we would be replenishing those sugars, they would be there all the time," Beddoe said.
The Shiga toxigenic E. coli is a major pathogenic form of E. coli. The sugar, called N-glycolylneuraminic acid-containing saccharides, is abundant in cow's milk and red meat, but low or absent in poultry and fish.