In a recent study from Washington University, researchers find that a natural sugar called trehalose blocks glucose from the liver and activates a gene that boosts insulin sensitivity.
This can reduce the chance of developing diabetes.
In addition, activating the gene also triggers an increase in calories burned, reduces fat and weight gain, and lessens blood cholesterol.
The findings suggest new possibilities for treating metabolic syndrome, a cluster of related conditions that includes obesity, diabetes and fatty liver disease.
In the study, the team examined healthy mice given only water over a 48-hour period.
They found that giving mice the sugar trehalose via drinking water resulted in beneficial effects on the animals’ liver metabolism—similar to benefits that resulted from fasting.
In fasting mice, the liver also turns on the same gene that improves the body’s ability to use insulin.
The gene is called Aloxe3, and it improves insulin sensitivity in the same way that common diabetes drugs improve insulin sensitivity.
The result showed that fasting, or giving sugar trehalose with a normal diet, could trigger the liver to change the way it processes nutrients, in a beneficial way.
The mice not only made better use of insulin, but also increased calorie burning, raised body temperature, reduced weight gain and fat accumulation.
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.
The team explained that 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.
The researchers warn that potential medicinal use of trehalose still requires considerable research.
The study is published in JCI Insight.
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Source: JCI Insight.