A biologically active disaccharide with health benefits

Melipona bee honey has long been considered a high-value food but the perceived therapeutic value has lacked attribution to specific bioactive components. Examination of honey from five different stingless bee species across the globe has enabled for the first time the identification of the unusual disaccharide trehalulose as a major component representing between 13 and 44 g per 100 g of each of these honeys.

The previously unrecognised abundance of trehalulose in stingless bee honeys is concrete evidence that supports some of the reported health attributes of this product. This is the first identification of trehalulose as a major component within a food commodity. This study allows the exploration of the expanded use of stingless bee honey in foods and identifies a bioactive marker for authentication of this honey in associated food standards.

Trehalulose is a naturally occurring isomer of sucrose, but has a much slower rate of release of monosaccharides into the bloodstream than sucrose. This disaccharide is therefore highly beneficial in having both a low insulinemic index and low glycemic index. Trehalulose is also known to be acariogenic, and a highly active antioxidant, and these properties may in no small way contribute to the reported beneficial health properties of stingless bee honey.

The presence of this disaccharide as a major component in stingless bee honey is then a likely contributor to previous observations of similar biological activity attributed to these honeys. Studies have, for example, described the antidiabetic properties of stingless bee honey, including protection against rises in fasting blood glucose levels and antioxidant properties. Administration of this honey to diabetic male rats prevented increases in the level of fasting blood glucose, total cholesterols, triglyceride, and low density lipoprotein.

The long-established consumption of stingless bee honey as a therapeutic/medicinal commodity is consistent with the reported bioactivity of trehalulose as a natural sucrose isomer. Trehalulose shows a reduced rate of hydrolysis in the small intestine (about one third that of sucrose) with application in controlling blood sugar levels for diabetes, glucose intolerance and obesity prevention. The identification of trehalulose as a major component in melipona bee honey provides a new, abundant and novel source for this bioactive disaccharide and opens the way to investigate the use of stingless bee honey as a food ingredient to achieve the same health benefits as attributed to pure trehalulose.

Excerpt of: Fletcher, M.T., Hungerford, N.L., Webber, D. et al. Stingless bee honey, a novel source of trehalulose: a biologically active disaccharide with health benefits. Sci Rep 10, 12128 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-68940-0