Galactose, also known as galactopyranose, belongs to the class of organic compounds known as hexoses. Hexoses are monosaccharides in which the sugar unit is a six-carbon containing moiety. As a hexose sugar, galactose has the same formula as glucose, C6H12O6, but differs in the position of the hydroxyl group on carbon-4. Along with glucose and fructose, galactose is one of the three most important blood sugars in animals. Galactose exists as a solid, soluble (in water), and is a very weak acidic compound. Galactose is less sweet than glucose and sucrose.
There are several methods to produce galactose - chemical, enzymatic and physical procedures. It is possible to extract galactose from plants like larch or legumes, but since these sources only contain small amounts of galactose, this method is considerably more expensive. Lactose, a disaccharide can be split into its two compounds, glucose and galactose by different methods.
Lactose can be split by acid hydrolysis. However, this method can result in extensive contamination of the final product with toxic agents such as heavy metals. The enzymatic method is also problematic since it often uses genetically modified lactase and thus posseses the risk of contaminating the galactose with genetically modified proteins or protein fragments.
Lactose can also be split physically, which is the most secure production procedure. It is split into its compounds by applying high pressure so that neither the source material nor the final product (i.e. galactose) can come into contact with any unwanted or dangerous substances in the process. The risk of accidental contamination is thus minimized. The final product is a high-purity quality product (>99%) and is safe for consumption.
Galactose has been reported to be beneficial in the management of a number of diseases, especially those affecting brain function. Galactose plays a potentially useful role in removing neurotoxic compounds from the brain in patients suffering from hepatic encephalopathy or Alzheimer's disease. As galactose is transported to the brain, it can act as an alternative source of energy owing to its metabolism to glucose. Daily oral galactose administration has also been shown to be a promising new, non-toxic therapy for the treatment of resistant nephrotic syndrome.
Galactose has anti-inflammatory properties. People who reportedly suffer from arthritis are found to have low levels of galactose in their body. Galactose also has antioxidant properties. It can inhibit the development of carcinogenic cells and tumors and their metastasis. Studies show that people who are afflicted with colon cancer have decreased levels of galactose in their system, and that regular intake of galactose in their diets can alleviate the symptoms of the disease or stop it completely.