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Glyconutrients: Definition and Overview

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Sugar molecule -- what are glyconutrients?
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What are glyconutrients?

Glyconutrients are eight specific sugars, or saccharides, found naturally in certain plants. These sugars include fucose, galactose, glucose, mannose, N-acetylgalactosamine, N-acetylglucosamine, N-acetylneuraminic acid, and xylose, which purportedly help form important compounds called glycoproteins in the body. Glycoproteins are combined molecules of protein and sugar, and certain glycoproteins such as digestive enzymes, cytokines, and antibodies are important for good health.

Glyconutrient supplements are sold over the Internet, and their manufacturers and proponents claim that glyconutrient supplements are essential because many people are deficient in glycoproteins. In addition, they say that glyconutrients are good for what ails you — that they can enhance wound healing and prevent and treat a host of diseases, including infections, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn disease, osteoarthritis, and cystic fibrosis. However, although some animal studies have suggested that glyconutrient supplementation may have some benefit, there hasn’t been much research to support these health claims in humans.

Since dietary supplements are regulated differently than drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the manufacturers are not required to prove the safety and effectiveness of their products before marketing them. Anyone with diabetes who takes a glyconutrient supplement should inform his health-care provider and monitor his blood glucose levels to see what effect if any the supplement is having on his diabetes control.

Robert Dinsmoor

A contributing editor at Diabetes Self-Management, Dinsmoor is an award-winning medical journalist who has written hundreds of articles on health and medicine, including dozens related to diabetes.

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