According to UK researchers, sugar could one day treat a range of respiratory disorders.
Their research, published in Nature Immunology, found that blocking glucose receptors in the lungs helped control inflammation, a hallmark of diseases like asthma and allergies. Meanwhile, inhalation of sugar could potentially kickstart the immune system to attack infectious diseases.
Their study using mice found that macrophages (white blood cells) in the lungs need the correct levels of an energy source (glucose) for them to be able to function properly. However, introducing Interleukin-4 (which activates during conditions like asthma) to the lungs affected function of macrophages, which were not able to process glucose properly.
“During inflammation of the type seen in asthma and parasitic worm infection it appears that glucose, and use of glucose, controls macrophage activation in the lungs,” lead researcher professor Andrew MacDonald of the University of Manchester said in a news release. “Attempting to treat aggressive inflammation by blocking glucose would be a balancing act, as all living things clearly need glucose as an overall energy source.”
Researchers also explained that introducing glucose to cells could initiate inflammation, which may help protect against some lung infections. “It’s reasonable to suggest that short-term inhalation therapy might one day work as such a treatment,” MacDonald said.
Ultimately scientists called on greater research for sugar’s therapeutic effects.
“The idea that modifying glucose levels in the lungs could one day be a critical factor in treatment of these conditions is tremendously exciting,” MacDonald said, but in terms of clinical application in people, it’s in its very early days.