Do you have any information on glyconutrients and any benefits to the immune system and general well being? I have been approached by a client who is keen to start taking them, but I can't find any quantifiable evidence to support her claims. Thanks for your help!
Glyconutrients are essentially simple sugars (like glucose) that some feel are missing in the diet. These molecules are mostly known for their ability help cells talk to each other. That being said, emerging research is beginning to uncover that sugar containing compounds may have roles that go beyond cell communication. Dietary sources of glyconutrients include fruits and vegetables as well as grains, mushrooms and even the sticky resins of some trees, to name a few. There are eight principle types of glyconutrients known to exist. They are: glucose, fucose, xylose, Galactose, Mannose, N-acetylgalactosamine, N-acetylglucosamine and N-acetylneuraminic acid.
In this age of people being concerned about the carbohydrates they consume, glyconutrients might seem an oddity; however, there is research on some of these sugars which shows that they may have an impact on health and well being. A good example of this is the glyconutrient that is arguably one of the most popular supplements on the market today called glucosamine sulfate, which is used by millions to help osteoarthritis. Glucosamine is essentially the sugar, glucose, bonded to the amino acid, glutamine. Many studies show that glucosamine sulfate is effective not only against reducing osteoarthritis pain levels, but it may even slow down the destruction of joint cartilage as well!
Another example you may have heard about are supplements called beta glucans, which are derived from bacteria and yeast. These supplements are sometimes used to help treat cancer and boost the immune system. The claims for beta glucans in particular highlight what I feel are the limitations and misinterpretations of the research being performed on glyconutrients. Specifically, research does find that beta glucans might stimulate a number of immune system cells. The catch is that it appears that they have to be injected to work. With respect to cancer treatment, some research shows that beta glucans might help increase survival time in persons with head and neck cancer and cervical cancer. The types of beta glucans that have been studied for this purpose are called lentinan and schizophyllan. This is very interesting but again, the research was conducted when these compounds were injected into the body. Currently, nobody can say that taking beta glucan supplements orally is effective for cancer or boosting immunity. These are facts to keep in mind because there are a lot of amazing claims being made about glyconutrients these days.
With respect to side effects, glyconutrients are probably harmless for most people because they are essentially sugars. Since they are sugars, I would caution diabetics to monitor their blood sugar levels while experimenting with these products. I would also advise people with autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis to consult their doctors before using glyconutrients touted to boost the immune system. There is no proof of this, but in theory, boosting the immune system might aggravate autoimmune disorders.
Your other question about glyconutrients is whether they can help general “well being” or health. This is in my opinion the $64,000 question that is at the heart of many claims about glyconutrients today. As was mentioned above, sugar containing molecules do play important roles in helping your billions of cells talk to each other. This is indeed very important because if cells couldn’t communicate properly, disease might result. The research for glucosamine sulfate notwithstanding, I have not seen any peer reviewed studies of proprietary blends of glyconutrient supplements showing that they have an impact on health.
The research on glyconutrients is very interesting to me; however, I have to say, I am skeptical of many of the claims being made about the products being marketed to consumers. I would feel more comfortable if I saw a few studies conducted on humans that used the products being marketed as opposed to the product’s ingredients.
I hope this helps.
- Cannon, Joe. (2006). Nutritional Supplements: What Works and Why. A Review from A to Zinc and Beyond. www.Joe-Cannon.com
- Okamura K et al. (1986). Clinical evaluation of schizophyllan combined with irradiation in patients with cervical cancer. A randomized controlled study. Cancer, 58,4,865-872.
- Sherwood ER et al.(1987). Enhancement of interleukin-1 and interleukin-2 production by soluble glucan. International journal of immunopharmacology, 9,3,261-267.
- Reginster JY et al. (2001). Long-term effects of glucosamine sulfate on osteoarthritis progression: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet, 357,251-256.