Can natural sugar prevent onset of diabetes?

The natural sugar trehalose blocks glucose from the liver and activates a gene that boosts insulin sensitivity in mice, reducing the chance of developing diabetes, according to a study published in the journal JCI Insight. The findings suggest new possibilities for treating metabolic syndrome, a cluster of related conditions that includes obesity, diabetes and fatty liver disease.

Judie Bizzozero, Content Director

November 15, 2018

2 Min Read
Natural sugar and diabetes

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found mice that received trehalose in their drinking water had improved insulin resistance—a benefit similar to that produced by fasting. The researchers determined trehalose, a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) food additive, has the ability to block glucose from the liver, thus turning on a gene called Aloxe3, which improves insulin sensitivity.

“We learned that this gene, Aloxe3, improves insulin sensitivity in the same way that common diabetes drugs—called thiazolidinediones—improve insulin sensitivity,” said Brian DeBosch, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics. “And we showed that Aloxe3 activation in the liver is triggered by both trehalose and by fasting, possibly for the same reason: depriving the liver of glucose.

The data suggest  fasting—or giving trehalose with a normal diet—triggers the liver to change the way it processes nutrients, in a beneficial way. “And if glucose can be blocked from the liver with a drug, it may be possible to reap the benefits of fasting without strictly limiting food,” DeBosch said.

The researchers found Aloxe3 in the liver—whether activated by fasting or trehalose—leads the mice not only to make better use of insulin, but to increase calorie burning, raise body temperature, reduce weight gain and fat accumulation—including fat deposits in the liver—and lessen measures of fats and cholesterol in the blood. They also found mice fed an obesity-inducing diet and mice that eat freely and are genetically prone to obesity are protected from metabolic disease if given trehalose in their drinking water.

DeBosch said trehalose may encounter enzymes in the digestive tract that break it apart, releasing its two glucose molecules, which would be counterproductive. The researchers investigated a similar sugar—lactotrehalose—they found has the same beneficial effects from triggering Aloxe3 but does not break apart as easily.

About the Author(s)

Judie Bizzozero

Content Director, Informa Markets Health & Nutrition

Judie Bizzozero oversees food and beverage content strategy and development for the Health & Nutrition group at Informa Markets (which acquired VIRGO in 2014), including the Food & Beverage Insider, Natural Products Insider and SupplySide/Food ingredients North America brands. She reports on market trends, science-based ingredients, and challenges and solutions in the development of healthy foods and beverages. Bizzozero graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

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