First is that the 100 billion neurons in our body require an insulating cover on those nerve’s axons. That insulation, called a myelin sheath, is composed of 80% fat and 20% protein.
The 80% fat is a glycolipid and galactocerebroside. Those are complex molecules of fat and sugars, joined to produce the myelin that wraps around every nerve’s axon. Know what characterizes multiple sclerosis?
It’s a breakdown of the myelin sheath. If we don’t get enough of the essential sugar to build the insulation, might we be setting the stage for MS?
Second is that the surface of every cell is covered with structures composed of one or more of the bio-active sugars combined with a protein or lipid backbone. Under a scanning electron microscope, those structures look like a forest of branching trees extending from the cell surface.
The function of those structures (glycoforms) is to identify invading organisms, mutated cells and toxins and to communicate with (signal) the immune system to come dispose of the threats.
What if we don’t get enough essential sugar to build those glycoforms? Might we be setting the stage for all types of threats to go unrecognized and cause all types of disease and damage to our health?
There are many, many more reasons to have bio-active sugars included in our daily diet as will be covered in the following sections.
Essential Sugars; What are they? Why do we need them?
Looking back, the fact that an innocuous sugar from the gooey gel of a fleshy, water retaining succulent plant had health benefits was startling enough. But researchers reasoned that if there was one sugar that healed, maybe there was more.
A few more years of research and experimentation revealed that there are eight unique, actually nine, sugars that the body combines with proteins and fats to build structures (glycoproteins and glycolipids) having critical functions within the body.
It took quite a few years for the importance of the discovery to sink in since the traditional thinking was that sugars were used for energy production in the cell; period, end of story.
This very shortsighted view still persists today in some circles in spite of a huge body of contradictory evidence.
Consider that Dr. James Lind, a ships surgeon in the Royal Navy published his Treatise on the Scurvy in 1753 showing the relationship between a lack of fresh fruit and scurvy.
Keeping It Simple
The simplest explanation of how essential sugars work is to swallow them, either in natural food or by supplementation. They are absorbed into the blood stream through the intestinal tract and carried to every cell in the body.
Within the cell, organelles take the various sugars and produce structures called glycoforms on the cell surface. These glycoforms can be thought of as antennas by which cells communicate with each other.
When everything is working right, the cells have the ability to differentiate between invading bacteria, viruses, mutated cells, toxins and the body’s own cells. When an invader or damaged cell is detected that needs to be destroyed, the appropriate defenders in the immune system are summoned to take care of the problem.
The eight sugars we have been referring to and which have proven to have huge implications for the body:
- mannose (MAN)
- fucose (FUC)
- xylose (XY)
- glucose (GLU)
- galactose (GAL)
- N-acetyl-glucosamine (GlcNAc)
- N-acetyl-galactosamine (GalNAc)
- N-acetyl-neurominic acid (sialic acid) (NANA)
The last three in the list are called acetylated glyconutrients because the sugar part of the substance is attached to acetic acid, as in vinegar. The addition of the acetic acid gives them some unique health benefits as opposed to the other five.
We will add one more to the list which is still relatively unknown except in a fairly small circle of glycobiology researchers. That sugar is Trehalose and more will be said about that later in this article.
The problem arises from the fact that it has been shown that most of the aforementioned sugars are missing in today’s modern diet. The sugars are relatively delicate and can be damaged or depleted from commercial food processing, particularly heating and the addition of preservatives.
Our bodies need all of these sugars but the problem is that only two, Glucose and Galactose, are abundant in our modern diets.
The rest are either missing or seriously deficient in our food supply for many of the reasons already discussed in the Nutrition pages: green harvest, depleted soil, chemical (toxic) damage to nutrients, food processing and the use of preservatives.
While these sugars are deemed essential, our bodies do have the ability to make the missing sugars for short periods of time and under emergency conditions. Biological manufacture of these sugars from glucose is not part of the master plan of our bodies, at least not as an ongoing activity.
Practical, Commercial Applications
The science behind a new development is always good to know but it’s all pointless unless we can put that science and knowledge to some practical purpose. Is making sure that the body receives all the nutrients it needs to perform its many functions in the best possible manner a good enough purpose?
Since their discovery, essential sugars and the breakthroughs in glycobiology research have been commercialized into a number of specific formulations available on the market as “dietary supplements” and an incredible amount of research funded by the pharmaceutiacal industry is underway to create a new class of sugar based drugs.
Without getting into product names or brand names, the applications of bio-active sugars to our personal health fall into three distinct categories.
First is that the early research on gooey Aloe Vera gel and its essential sugars, and techniques in refining and handling them, have evolved into a variety of products available in all sorts of packaging.
Their purpose is to provide Immune System support by maximizing inter-cellular communication. Cells communicate with each other through the essential sugars. If communication breaks down, health breaks down.
Endocrine Support – Glands and Hormones
Second is that certain of the essential sugars have been combined with other natural nutrients, herbs and phytosterols to support the endocrine system.
Recall that the Endocrine System is our collection of glands that produce hormones for all the regulatory functions of our body. One hormone that everyone should be familiar with is insulin…we all know what happens when the regulation of insulin goes awry; hello diabetes. Without hormonal regulation, we have chaos; we have disease.
Sugar as Antioxidant
Third is that the essential sugars have been combined with certain vitamins and phytonutrients to produce various powerful antioxidants.
If the body can’t rid itself of free radicals, it will literally “rust” away, resulting it a whole host of health issues…autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases and degenerative health issues.
Target System Support
In addition to the three general applications described above, essential sugars have been incorporated into numerous supplements from many sources and focused on every specific issue imaginable.
The one caveat when buying any dietary supplement is to do your research on the manufacturer, the ingredients, how those ingredients are obtained, quality control, manufacturing practices and labeling. If rigorous controls are not maintained, the buyer could end up with a worthless, degraded product or worse.
Also beware of any manufacturer or seller making outlandish cure, mitigation, prevention or treating any disease or health condition. First of all such claims are illegal unless backed up by clinical studies and approved by the FDA and the fact is that very, very few dietary supplements have such FDA approval.
The reasons are that the approval process is extremely expensive and since dietary supplements are usually made from natural ingredients found in nature, they cannot be patented almost guaranteeing that the manufacturer would never recoup their investment.
All we can do is hope that the FDA will one day wake up and realize that supplements really do some amazing things for the human body and stop trying to lump them in with drugs.