What is Trehalose?
When we think about sugar, our thoughts usually turn to cane sugar, candy bars and other sweet treats that taste great but do nothing for our health. With consumption of sugar on the rise, health issues like diabetes and obesity are becoming more and more prevalent so the search for an alternative is a priority.
There are many synthetic sugar substitutes like asparteme but unfortunately research tells us that they contain chemicals that are bad for our health. There are also plenty of natural sugar substitutes and we have already looked at several of them in detail at healthyfocus.
Trehalose is one such natural sugar – a disaccheride found in mushrooms, seaweed and several other organisms. Studies indicate that trehalose actually confers several health benefits including anti-aging properties. Admittedly, the research done so far has largely been carried out on animal models but the signs are promising.
Sources of Trehalose
Trehalose is found naturally occurring in a small number of foods. These include mushrooms, certain types of seaweed, lobsters, shrimp, beer, wine, bread and other food which uses brewer’s yeast.
Trehalose is also artificially produced with corn starch and several different bacterial enzymes including alpha-amylase and isoamylase. Trehalose makes for a good additive since it is stable under heat and can preserve cell structure after food is heated or frozen.
It is commonly used as a stabilizer and texturizer in frozen food, dried food, jams, rice, instant noodles, nutrition bars, bakery cream, fruit juice and white chocolate.
Trehalose Nutrition Facts
- Each gram of trehalose contains 4 calories.
- Its glycemic index is slightly higher than sucrose.
- Trehalose net carbohydrates is 100%.
- It is about 45% the sweetness of sucrose or normal table sugar.
Facts about Trehalose
Trehalose is poorly absorbed by the body and studies done to date suggest that its beneficial effects can only be gleaned when it is administered in injectable or topical form.
Trehalose has been studied for various therapeutic purposes mainly because of it can induce controlled cell death or apoptosis in cancer cells. Research has demonstrated that in a therapeutic setting, trahalose administered through injections can be effective.
Unfortunately however, trehalose is absorbed poorly via the intestines. Not only that but an enzyme called trehalase in the intestinal wall rapidly degrades the trehalose to glucose. Some trehalose will manage to bypass the enzyme and get absorbed however, trehalase is also present in the blood and the liver which finalizes digestion and leaves very little if any trehalose to reach the cells and exert any therapeutic benefits.
The therapeutic benefits of trehalose can only be preserved by avoiding oral digestion and applying it topically. Studies have already demonstrated its potential as a treatment for dry eye when it is used as drops. It may also have potential topical benefits for the skin and the hair.
Health Benefits of Trehalose
Trehalose can hardly be considered a nutritional powerhouse nor does it confer a very wide range of human health benefits. However, several studies do indicate that this natural sweetener may have some potential value although the studies done to date have mostly been conducted on animal models. According to the studies done so far, these are the potential health benefits of trehalose.
1) Heart Health
Several studies indicate that oral trehalose supplements may have cardiovascular benefits.
One of the few pieces of research conducted on humans was published in 2016. Having seen its anti-aging effects on mice, the researchers hypothesized that trehalose could improve vascular function on older people. The researchers found that oral trehalose improved resistance artery function which is one of the major risk factors in heart disease. (1)
2) Eye Protection and Health
One of the main areas of scientific research into trehalose has focused on its eye health benefits According to the research done so far, trehalose in the form of eye drops has several applications for the eyes.
One study done on mice place the animals in a low-humidity environment with little airflow for a 3 week period. This environment would be expected to cause dry eye symptoms in the mice. The mice treated with trehalose drops had fewer symptoms than the placebo animals. (2)
These findings were supported in a 7 day human trial where patients treated with an eyedrop containing trehalose. The experiment published in 2015 used 17 adults and found that those treated with the trehalose drops experienced fewer symptoms of dry eye. (3)
Treatment with trehalose drops can also prevent damage done to the cells by UVB rays. According to one study, not only does it protect against UVB ray damage but can also increase the speed of healing following damage to the eyes. (4)
And finally, another study published in 2014 found that eyedrops containing trehalose could also preserve the health of corneal cells in humans. (5)
3) Brain Health
There have also been a number of animal studies into the potential effects of trehalose on brain health and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
According to studies, trehalose helps raise levels of progranulin which may benefit people with degenerative brain disease. (6)
Another study found that trehalose was able to inhibit protein misfolding – this is a phenomenon which can trigger certain degenerative brain disease. (7) The researchers concluded that trehalose had potential for use in the treatment of Parkinson’s and other similar illnesses.
4) Digestive Health and Diabetes
There is some evidence that trehalose can have a positive influence on blood sugar control and gastrointestinal health.
In one study trehalose administered along with guava juice helped to protect the kidney and pancreas from injury induced by type 2 diabetes. (8) Another study found that trehalose inhibited glucose transport triggering beneficial cell autophagy. (9)
How to Get Trehalose into Your Diet
As we have already mentioned, trehalose can be found in certain foods so the best way to get more trehalose into your diet is to identify the source and to consume more of that food.
Mushrooms are one of the best sources of trehalose. It can be found in various types of mushroom including shiitake, oyster, golden needle, king oyster and parasol mushrooms. Eating more mushrooms is great for your health since they also include many other healthy nutrients like selenium and vitamins C and D. Mushrooms are also a wonderful source of natural antioxidants.
Other great sources of trehalose are sunflower seeds, shrimp and lobster.
Buy Bulk Trehalose
While trehalose is fairly new on the market, it is becoming more readily available if a little expensive compared to cane sugar. You can substitute trehalose for sugar and artificial sweeteners and use it in your baking and cooking. There are a number of trehalose cooking recipes online for those of you that would like to try it out. You can also use it to sweeten your tea and coffee or sprinkle a little onto your breakfast cereals.
Trehalose is generally regarded as safe in doses as high as 60 grams each day and there are no reports of adverse side effects. In japan, it has been used as a sweetener for many years with no adverse effects.
While trehalose is only about 50% as sweet as ordinary table sugar, it still has a fairly high glycemic index and might still raise blood sugar levels.
People with diabetes should be especially careful not to overdo it and should consult their doctor before using it as a sugar substitute.