In his Nutracon presentation, “What's in Your Energy Drink?” Jeff Hendricks, MD, CEO of RIZE Beverage, delved into different ingredients buzzing around the energy category. Here, we caught up with him about a couple of the most interesting components.

With more than a decade in clinical practice, four years at the Human Genetics Lab at the University of Michigan, genetic work at the NIH and an “obsessive” interest in human physiology and performance based in his own passion for triathlons, Hendricks has a medical, nutritional biochemistry and exercise physiology background that's perfect for the energy products sector.

Fi: You've said trehalose is the “single most impressive and versatile sugar ever.” What's the big deal?

Jeff Hendricks: Trehalose releases twice the amount of energy of glucose without spiking insulin – ideal for diabetics and athletes. It comes from the resurrection plant, also called the Rose of Jericho. This amazing plant can survive a century of drought. It can uproot itself, roll around the desert, then, when it finds water it can turn from a brown tumbleweed to a green plant within a few hours. (Watch this cool time lapse footage.) In addition, trehalose has impressive anti-inflammatory properties.

Fi: How does it work?

JH: Trehalose has a different physiological profile than normal sugars. It's a disaccharide, two glucose molecules linked together in a specific way, giving it unique properties. With most sugars, when you ingest a large amount quickly, it's absorbed in the stomach and the first part of the small intestine in a quick surge. The pancreas responds by kicking out a bunch of insulin. The insulin lasts longer than the sugar surge, though, and that's why you get a crash. Sugar is not bad. Too much sugar is bad. And, really, it's not even that, it's the resulting insulin that's bad. It's the high amounts of insulin that lead to negative health issues. Trehalose, however, is digested throughout the digestive track, not just in the stomach and small intestine. Because there's a more even absorption, you don't get the crash that come with other sugars.

Fi: Why aren't triathletes getting trehalose molecule tattoos on their biceps yet?

JH: I wondered the same thing when I first learned about it. Turns out there have been two obstacles. First, it's been hard to extract from the plant in commercially viable amounts. But recently, a Japanese scientist patented an extraction method. Secondly, trehalose is only 42 percent as sweet as table sugar, and initially people were unable to bring the sweetness level up to where they wanted for drinks. We've been able to do it by combining it with a small amount of other sugars in our Halo water.

Fi: Are you aware of any clinical trials for trehalose?

JH: Yes. There have been several that demonstrates trehalose's anti-inflammatory effects. In one trial, trehalose was shown, in rabbits, to prevent inflammatory complications from strokes. Other trials have shown how trehalose induces autophagy, a fancy term for the body's process of digesting and recycling proteins. Accumulated protein can cause problems in cells, as it does in Huntington's and Parkinsons. Studies have shown clinical improvement in mice with both of these diseases after trehalose supplementation.

Fi: What's the story with huperzein A, another ingredient featured in RIZE?

JH: Huperzein A's another ingredient with fantastic potential. It boosts memory and cognitive function. It comes from Chinese club moss, grown only in remote regions of China. The Chinese have been using it for centuries to treat cognitive impairment. It's currently the drug of choice for Alzheimers in China. Here, it's probably one of the most potent botanicals available over the counter.

Fi: How does it work?

JH: It raises the level of acetyl choline, the “learning” neurotransmitter, that helps with memory and thought.

Fi: Have you noticed any overall trends in the energy products market?

JH: In general, there's been a shift away from hype and toward legitimate, science-based ingredients. And this is a good thing. Another trend I'm seeing in medicine is that we're finding that inflammation is the root of all evil. We're finding that at root, cardiovascular disease is a a disease of chronic inflammation of blood vessels, diabetes involves inflammation in the pancreas and in cells, the neurodegenerative diseases have inflammation at their root, and cancer is based, in part, on an inflammatory process. I think we're going to see more and more development of not just drugs to block inflammation, a trend toward food and beverages designed to prevent and decrease inflammation.

To learn more, check out Hendricks' Nutracon presentation.