Dr Rami El-Hussieny, ND
In the world of natural medicine there has been a commonly held belief that dietary sugars are generally bad for your health. For years the dominant nutritional perspective has been that the primary function of sugar is to provide our bodies with a source of calories for energy production (5) . It has been accepted that the carbohydrate rich meals that we commonly consume as a part of the Standard American Diet (SAD), not only increase our likelihood for disease, but also only serve to be broken down into the cellular fuel source of glucose (5) .
In the last decade emerging science has begun to challenge this belief. It still holds true that consuming a diet high in simple carbohydrates can greatly increase an individual's chances of developing one of several diseases, like type II diabetes and obesity. However, it is now clear that sugars play a much larger role than merely supplying the body with calories. It has only recently come to light that sugars are integral to many biological functions, including how cells communicate with each other and the proper functioning of the immune system (1) .
Eight simple sugars have been identified as the basic "glyco-" building blocks of our system. The development of dietary supplements that provide these sugars has become known as "glyconutrients" (3) . Of these eight monosaccharide (simple sugar) building blocks, it is claimed that only two (glucose and galactose) are readily found in the Standard American Diet (SAD) (1).
The Essential Sugars
• N-acetylneuraminic acid
It is important to note that these sugars do not raise blood sugar or result in an insulin response upon ingestion. They are structural in nature and do not have a significant caloric impact. In other words they are safe for diabetics or anyone wishing to maintain a low carbohydrate diet.
Glycoproteins: Their role in human physiology
The eight essential sugars found in most glyconutrient supplements bind with proteins in various ways to form molecules called glycoproteins (2) . Glycoproteins perform a wide variety of physiological functions such as acting as cell markers on cell membranes. Cell markers can be thought of as the words used by cells to communicate with each other. They may, for example, tell an old red blood cell it is time to retire and be replaced by the liver.
Glycoproteins also function as biological transporters. The purpose of transporters is to get vitamins and nutrients to the areas of the body where they are needed, in the same way that a bus would take pedestrians to their desired destinations. A good example of this is the glycoprotein ceruloplasmin, the carrier protein responsible for transporting the trace mineral copper (2) .
Another important function of glycoproteins is their role in the formation of immune antibodies (2). When our bodies are under attack by a bacterium, for example, our antibodies are the first immune cells on the scene. They recognize the bacteria as an invader and alert other immune cells to mount a defensive surge. They are our bodies' first line of defense against invading pathogens (2) .
The term glycobiology refers to the emerging field of science and research that examines the role of essential sugars in human health (1) . As it is a new field, a handful of research articles have been published illustrating the potential uses and effects of glyconutrient supplementation. Several different studies have reported immune enhancing effects such as antimicrobial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties (1) .
One study reported enhanced immunity in those suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (3) . Researchers in another study reported that glyconutritional supplementation decreased the symptoms associated with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) (4) . Glyconutrients have been shown to decrease levels of LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and to increase levels of HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) (1) . They may be supportive to individuals suffering from certain types of cardiovascular disease.
Several dozen biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies world-wide are currently participating in glyconutrient research. Their research involves a variety of possible uses for glyconutrients including cancer treatments, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal agents, as well as treatments for influenza, asthma, and other infections (1) .
Benefits of Glyconutrients
One can draw the following conclusions regarding the use of glyconutrient supplementation: They are basic building blocks of human physiology and are necessary for numerous biological functions. They also support healthy cell to cell communication and in this function represent one of the most basic and essential roles of any nutrient. Additionally, they are supportive to optimal cardiovascular and immune health. Furthermore, the current body of research provides a favorable outlook for scientific validation of glyconutrients as standard component of any health and wellness program in the near future. And most importantly, glyconutrients are safe when derived from food or supplements in taken at recommended doses. (1)
To determine the benefits of glyconutrient supplementation for yourself, try Realfood Organics Glyconutrient Complex by Country Life
or Goji 100 by Genesis, both available at your local Better Health store.
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(1) Conquer, J., et al. (2008) Glyconutrient Monograph. Natural Standard Inc. Retreived March 15, 2008, from http://www.naturalstandard.com/monographs/
(2) Lehninger, A.L., Nelson, D.L., & Cox, M.M. (1993). Principles of biochemistry. Worth Publishers Inc. New York
(3) See, D. M., Cimoch, P., Chou, S., Chang, J., and Tilles, J. The in vitro immunomodulatory effects of glyconutrients on peripheral blood mononuclear cells of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Integr.Physiol Behav.Sci 1998;33(3):280-287.
(4) Wang, C., Szabo, J. S., and Dykman, R. A. Effects of a carbohydrate supplement upon resting brain activity. Integr.Physiol Behav.Sci 2004;39(2):126-138.
(5) Williams, S.R. (1999). Essentials of nutrition and diet therapy.
Mosby Inc. St. Louis, Missouri.