What is trehalose?

Trehalose is a sugar, a disaccharide composed of two glucose molecules joined by an alpha-alpha (1,1) glycosidic bond [1].

Trehalose structure

Picture 1. Trehalose structural formula

Nutrition Facts for Trehalose

  • Calories per gram = 4 [3]
  • Glycemic index (GI) = 72 (high) [16-p.9]
  • Sweetness, relative to sucrose = 45% [1]
  • Net carbohydrates = 100%

Trehalose Sources

Trehalose occurs naturally in small amounts in mushrooms, honey, lobsters, shrimps, certain seaweeds (algae), wine, beer, bread and other foods produced by using baker’s or brewer’s yeast [3].

As a food additive, trehalose is artificially produced from corn starch using several bacterial enzymes such as alpha-amylase, obtained from Bacillus licheniformis, and isoamylase from Pseudomonas amyloderamosa [1,3,4]. Trehalose is heat stable and preserves the cell structure of foods after heating and freezing, so it is used as a food texturizer and stabilizer in dried foods, frozen foods, nutrition bars, fruit fillings and jams, instant noodles and rice, white chocolate, sugar coating, bakery cream, processed seafood and fruit juices [3,4].

Trehalose Function in the Human Body

Trehalose is a source of energy – it can provide about 4 Calories per gram, about the same as sucrose [3].

Trehalose Safety

In the EU [5] and Australia [3], trehalose is considered a novel food – a food that does not have a long-term history of safe use. Trehalose as a food additive is safe to use; it is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [6]. Trehalose is approved and commonly used in Japan, Taiwan and south Korea; it is also approved in the EU, Australia and New Zealand [7].

Trehalose Digestion

In the small intestinal lining, the enzyme trehalase breaks trehalose to two glucose molecules, which are then absorbed [3]. Healthy individuals can completely digest 10-50 grams of trehalose from a single meal [4,7]. Some individuals, especially those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and digestive problems mentioned below, may be sensitive to lower amounts, though. Any undigested trehalose passes to the large intestine where normal bacteria break it down to gases and irritant substances that can cause abdominal bloating or diarrhea [7].

Who can benefit from avoiding/limiting trehalose intake?

Individuals with the following conditions can benefit from avoiding trehalose:

  • Active celiac disease [4].
  • Trehalase deficiency–a rare genetic disorder most common in  Greenland [4,8,9,10]. The yeast Saccharomyces boulardii, sold as a prebiotic, releases the enzyme trehalase, so it could theoretically help reduce symptoms in individuals with trehalase deficiency, but there is a lack of human clinical trials [11].
  • Glucose-galactose malabsorption [13]
  • GLUT1 deficiency syndrome [14]

Trehalose and Dental Caries

Trehalose has a low potency of promoting tooth decay [12,15].

Trehalose and Blood Glucose, Insulin and Diabetes

  • Trehalose triggers only a small increase of blood insulin levels [2].
  • Trehalose glycemic index is 72, which is relatively high [16-p.9].

Trehalose and Cooking

  • Trehalose is a white crystalline substance, 45% as sweet as sucrose [1].
  • Trehalose has low hygroscopicity – it does not readily absorb water [17].
  • Trehalose solubility in water at 68 °F (20 °C) is 69 g/100 mL [6,18]. Trehalose is slightly soluble in ethanol [1].
  • The melting point of trehalose dihydrate is 207 °F (97 °C) and trehalose anhydride 210.5 °C (411 °F) [18].
  • Trehalose is a non-reducing sugar [1], so it does not react with amino acids to initiate the Maillard browning reaction [6].

  1. Trehalose  Food and Agriculture Organization
  2. Arai C et al, 2010, Trehalose prevents adipocyte hypertrophy and mitigates insulin resistance  PubMed
  3. Trehalose  Health Canada
  4. Trehalose  INCHEM
  5. Applications under Regulation (EC) N° 258/97 of the European Parliament and of the Council  European Commission
  6. GRAS Notification for Hayashibara Trehalose US Food and Drug Administration
  7. Trehalose as a novel food  Food Standards Australia New Zealand
  8. Trehalase deficiency  Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)
  9. Gudmand-Høyer E, 1988, Trehalase Deficiency in Greenland PubMed
  10. Trehalase deficiency  Climb
  11. Buts JP et al, 2008, Characterization of alpha,alpha-trehalase released in the intestinal lumen by the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii  PubMed
  12. Touger-Decker R et al, 2003, Sugars and dental caries  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  13. Glucose-galactose malabsorption  Genetics Home Reference
  14. GLUT1 deficiency syndrome  Genetics Home Reference
  15. Neta T et al, 2000, Low-cariogenicity of trehalose as a substrate  PubMed
  16. Mitchell H, 2006, Sweeteners-and-Sugar-Alternatives-in-Food-Technology
  17. Fakes MG et al, 2000 Moisture sorption behavior of selected bulking agents used in lyophilized products  PubMed
  18. Higashiyama T et al, 2002, Novel functions and applications of trehalose  IUPAC


5 Responses to "Trehalose"

  1. Mo Morgen says:

    i got some Trehalose from Swanson online because of all the raves i’ve read about it. I’ve been using saccharine in my coffee 3x daily for decades with no ill effects that i know of, i sometimes add a half teaspoon of turbinado sugar for taste, but avoid aspartame/splenda drinks. i do have a sweet tooth for cake and dark chocolate on occasion, so i thought whatever i can replace w/Trehalose would be beneficial.
    however, the first day i used it to replace saccharin/sugar in my coffee, after bkfst/lunch, i started to experience flatulence and diarrhea-like urges, which i thought were maybe due to the herring in sour cream i had for lunch-very vinegary. however, 2nd day i took Trehalose again, had more stomach (not intestinal i think) distress, and was very flatulent all day. my wife had the Trehalose w/ her morning coffee, soon afterwards she felt stomach bloating and mild flatulence.
    this does not seem to jibe with your statement that we can handle a huge amount with no problems (30-60 grams) and only when we go over that is there a problem with gases and irritants in the large intestine. i’m also noting your warnings to those w/celiac disease,
    which i don’t have but for many years suffered from mild IBS, which has not been a problem for the last decade. my wife also has
    a touch of mild IBS.
    I’m a healthy 77, but would love to experience the reputed protections of Trehalose vs. Alzheimer’s, aging, diabetes, blood sugar,
    mood, Parkinson’s (my Dad had it), and the supposed aid to good hydration it is supposed to provide. but of course if the side effects are so discomforting, then i can’t. Why are we having these reactions with such small doses? should we take it with meals rather than coffee, which we usually have on an empty stomach? I read one other site i googled that said, in addition to your warnings, that it’s impossible to gain any benefit from orally ingested Trehalose because it just breaks down to sucrose before it is
    absorbed. is this true? if so, why are these the only negatives i’m reading, every other site is saying Trehalose is miraculous and totally safe.

    • Jan Modric says:

      No Morgen, in one small study mentioned here (under the section 2.3.1), no individuals had a problem with 10 grams, but some have problems with 20 grams of trehalose (I edited this now in the article).

      The Food Standards of New Zealand and Australia (where trehalose is more popular) says that the lowest dose, healthy individuals are sensitive is 33 grams.

      On the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website, there are several studies, in which many individuals tolerated 50 grams of trehalose dissolved in water on the empty stomach.

      You may be simply more sensitive to trehalose or there was maybe some other ingredient in that trehalose product it caused you problems. Or you may have one of the enzyme deficiencies explained under “Digestion” above in the article.

      As explained above in the article, trehalose is completely digested in the small intestine to glucose.

      I have fond some studies about the effect of trehalose on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in rats and mice but no human studies, so I did not mention any in the article.

      I don’t know how trehalose would improve hydration. Hydration comes from water not from sugar.

      Glycemic index of trehalose is 72, which is higher than in sucrose (table sugar), so it does seems to be better for diabetes.

      I’ve found one very new study which the authors concluded that trehalose may have some protective effect on the arteries, but this alone is not enough for me to recommend trehalose as a method of prevention of aging.

  2. Mo Morgen says:

    why did my comments disappear and you say required fields were not filled out? they were!

    • Jan Modric says:

      After you submit a comment, it then disappears until we approve it – if we do, it should be visible in 24 hours in week days.

  3. Julie Aquilina says:

    I ate a product similar to rice cakes with trehalose. Within minutes, I felt short of breath, my heart racing, and immediate bloating. I have gastroparesis and possible wheat sensitivity. I won’t be consuming anything else with trehalose in it just as I don’t consume anything with artificial sweeteners. I never heard of trehalose before. Once my body starting reacting, I looked up the ingredients and googled trehalose.

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