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Brain Washing. The Good Kind.

Jul 9th, 2024 by Dr. Emily D'Adamo

Every night when we go to sleep, our brain enters the cleaning cycle. This cycle, known as cerebral autophagy, is the process by which our bodies get rid of old or damaged parts of the cells. The name ‘autophagy’ comes from the Greek words auto (self) and phagy (eating). If we think of the cell as a tiny factory, autophagy is like a cleaning crew that comes in after hours, cleans up the shop floor, and empties the waste baskets. 

Autophagy is a critical function. It is inextricably linked with the process of aging, and with many degenerative diseases, such as dementia. Poor sleep quality, lack of sleep, light pollution, stress, and circadian rhythm imbalances can limit the amount of autophagy that occurs at night. 

Much of our autophagy processes are regulated by a very important gene called mTOR. Probably due to our evolutionary distant past, mTOR tends to slow down autophagy, which can lead to, among other things, weight gain. Way back when, this was probably a good thing, since our distant ancestors certainly worried more about getting calories in than they did about getting them out. Blocking mTOR has become a hot topic in longevity research and drives the current interest in intermittent fasting. 

Enter Trehalose

Trehalose [pronounced ‘tree-ha-lohs’] is comprised of two molecules of glucose (a simple sugar) stuck together. However, unlike the glucose on a jelly donut, this binding is not easy to break, so trehalose tends to stay as trehalose in the body, rather than be absorbed as a carbohydrate for nourishment. 

Trehalose exists as a fine powder, that is slightly sweet tasting and mixes well with water. Because of this, trehalose is an excellent agent for those who have trouble swallowing pills and capsules. 

Trehalose enhances autophagy, helping to maintain cellular health and function. However, it does this in an mTOR-independent manner, which makes its actions much more predictable, since mTOR is a rather well-connected gene and most attempts to block it simply result in the cell using a different pathway to get it going. Sort of like when the interstate is clogged with heavy traffic, drivers simply look for way to use the local roads. By skipping the mTOR stage, trehalose can get right to work, doing its autophagy thing. 

Studies have also suggested that trehalose may have neuroprotective effects, help to reduce tissue tenderness, and even potentially help to balance insulin sensitivity. 

In addition to its wondrous effects on autophagy, trehalose also acts as a cellular ‘chaperone,’ ensuring proteins keep their proper shape. Like a Japanese paper origami figure, our proteins assume certain shapes depending on their amino acid formula. It is this three-dimensional shape that determines their ultimate role in life, be it an enzyme, hormone, part of a blood vessel, etc. 

Most metabolic disorders result from processes that cause the cell to manufacture proteins that are not folded correctly; proteins that are ‘misfolded.’ Additionally, high-stress states such as infection and inflammation can trigger an uptick in unfolded proteins, which can be quite stressful to the cell, going so far as to cause cell death if unresolved. 

Trehalose, similar to an adult at a middle school dance, chaperones proteins to make sure they stay in line, ultimately helping to curb cellular stress and prevent their unfortunate death. 

Thus, if you’re in need of more restful sleep, a rational approach to longevity, and a powerful aid to nerve and metabolic regeneration, think about getting brain washed by adding trehalose into your health practice.

Dr. Emily D’Adamo is a Staff Physician at the Center for Generative Medicine, in Norwalk, Connecticut. Dr. D’s deepest love lies in precision medicine – the practice of delivering healthcare that accounts for individual variances in genomics, environments and microbiomes. With precision medicine, patient-centeredness is the core philosophy; no two individuals are alike, and the care they receive reflects that.