If you keep an eye on certain corners of the web, places like Longecity and nootropics subreddits, you may have heard about trehalose, a type of mild sugar believed to have many beneficial properties from a health standpoint. Outside of those niche interests, though, trehalose has largely gone unnoticed, but that may soon change: a new study has found that, at least in mice, this sugar triggers a type of ‘housekeeping’ effect in the immune system, prodding it to deal with plaque in arteries (atherosclerosis), fat in the liver, and more.
The study was conducted by researchers with the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; they looked into the effect of trehalose on various conditions in mice. What they found is that this natural sugar is able to trigger the cleaning up of cellular garbage, so to speak, including organelles that are dysfunctioning, misshapen proteins, and plaque in arteries.
Before you get too excited, though, take note: the positive effects were observed when trehalose was injected into lab mice, but not when it was consumed orally. As well, injecting other types of sugar didn’t have the same plaque-reducing effects. Upon studying why trehalose has such a beneficial effect, the team identified the cause: the activation of TFEB, a type of molecule that goes into macrophages, a type of immune cell.
Once in the macrophages, TFEB binds to DNA, activating certain genes that ultimately result in the body increasing its number of ‘garbage collectors.’ This is both notable and surprising, as it means the sugar not only improves the body’s existing ability to clean out the cellular gunk, but it also generates more of these ‘garbage collectors’ to do more work. Additional research on the substance is underway to figure out exactly how the substance works.
While the study looked at the effects in mice, the results are exciting for humans. Trehalose is a readily available substance that is safe for humans to consume, one that can serve as a mild sweetener in things like coffee. The big barrier for the average person is the apparent necessity of injecting the substance — something certainly not safe to do at home. In the future, though, this issue may be side-stepped by creating a companion substance that blocks the enzyme that ruins trehalose’s oral effectiveness.