BLOGS

Are saccharides the most important non-essential nutrients for maintenance of health and prevention of chronic disease?

Dr. John Lewis Ph. D.

03 July 2017

Besides oxygen and water, the most important nutrients that humans need for survival are vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty and amino acids.  The human body needs to get all of these nutrients from the diet, as our cells are not capable of synthesizing them.  A minimal amount of each of these nutrients is needed just to maintain a basic state of health and to prevent disease, e.g., vitamin C for scurvy.  However, these essential nutrients are needed in higher amounts and other nutrients are desirable besides these to optimize health.

Many nutrients are being studied by scientists all over the world to determine how they take part in making us healthy through various metabolic pathways and genes affecting our cells and ultimately our organ systems.  Last month, we discussed different types of sugars, or saccharides, and how the type of saccharide can play a role in health and disease.  Polysaccharides (saccharides with a complex biochemical structure) constitute a class of nutrients that are increasing in popularity among the many different nutritional supplements being sold today.  These polysaccharides, along with amino acids (proteins), lipids (fats), vitamins, minerals, numerous elements, and hundreds of phytochemicals, are responsible for producing bioactive compounds that conduct the biochemistry of living cells.  Kornfeld and Kornfeld (1985) detail this step-by-step process of the bio-assembly line within all functioning cells.  Most importantly, during the second major step of biosynthesis in all cells, nine molecules of mannose, a key polysaccharide, are required in the endoplasmic reticulum to initiate the assembly of glycoproteins and glycolipids.  This process demonstrates that polysaccharides are not only metabolized to provide energy, but that they are used for glycosylation (i.e., the addition of saccharides to amino acid chains or free fatty acid chains) in the endoplasmic reticulum and the Golgi.  The significance of the coding capacity of polysaccharides in glycoproteins and glycolipids is provided in a series of review articles in a glycomics-dedicated issue of Acta Anatomica from 1998.  The addition of nine molecules of mannose in three chains in the endoplasmic reticulum constitutes the establishment of a domain on which instructions for life processes are transmitted between cells.  In the Golgi, other polysaccharides are added, and the number of mannose units is modified to provide a code of information for conducting host defense, repair, growth, healing, and homeostasis.  This domain is the principle site for coordinating activities for the trillions of cells that make up the human body.

This fundamental supporting biochemistry is why supplying polysaccharides from food sources results in a broad spectrum of health-supporting benefits.  Additionally, concentrated levels of polysaccharides in dietary supplements, compared to their levels in foods, takes advantage of the Michaelis-Menten equation, a molecular biology principle that demonstrates how a concentrated amount of nutrients allows a greater number of bioactive compounds to be created.  Thus, innate mechanisms of defense and repair coded in the genes can be boosted to be more effective against infectious agents and compromises in health.

These polysaccharides come from many plants, such as rice bran, aloe vera, dioscorea, and others.  These nutrients have been characterized by many different investigators.  Two very potent polysaccharides that have multiple documented immunological effects in several health challenges are aloe polymannose and BioBran™ (hydrolyzed rice bran).  Acemannan, or aloe polymannose, has been shown to support the natural biochemical mechanisms for activity of antiviral cells.  In humans, acemannan has also been effective in supporting cell processes that are:  antibacterial, anti-neoplastic, wound healing, supportive of intracellular stability, balance, and adaptation in stressed cells, and able to increase the synthesis of reduced-glutathione, the principle intracellular anti-oxidant and multi-systems balancing compound.  In our lab, we documented the cognitive and immunomodulatory effects of a polysaccharide-based formula with acemannan as the key ingredient in a sample of subjects with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease.  After 12 months on the regimen, subjects showed clinically and statistically significant improvements in cognitive function, inflammatory status, and adult stem cell proliferation.  In a study exploring various fractions of aloe vera extracts, it was discovered that each fraction had unique molecular and pharmacological profiles.  One fraction displayed hematopoietic activity, while another fraction displayed anti-inflammatory activity, i.e. down-regulation of iNOS and TNF.  Different and sometimes opposing effects were seen in separate fractions of the same plant.  These new fractioning and incubation techniques help to elucidate the mechanisms of action and compounds behind the therapeutic benefits of plant extracts.  These techniques can also help to isolate specific fractions of aloe vera that have conflicting effects, possibly explaining minimal effects in some studies.

Similar to acemannan, BioBran has been extensively studied in cells, animals, and humans, demonstrating wide-ranging effects.  Many in vitro and in vivo studies have shown BioBran to possess a biologic response modifier effect on immune system function, particularly in natural killer (NK) cell activity.  One in vitro study showed BioBran inhibited HIV-1 replication by inhibiting p24 antigen production in a dose dependent manner.  Another study found significant increases in NK cell cytotoxicity compared to baseline, when a similar BioBran-based agent was administered orally to human subjects.  BioBran has also been shown to enhance macrophage phagocytic activity and nitric oxide release and scavenge free radicals in a dose-dependent manner.  Thus, it may also function in an antioxidant capacity.  In our lab, we showed that BioBran demonstrated true immunomodulation by enhanced NK cell cytotoxicity, significant changes in 9 out of 12 cytokines and growth factors, and safety and tolerability of the product among a sample of healthy adults.  Overall, BioBran has been shown to demonstrate the following:  (1) optimization of NK cell cytotoxic activity against cancerous and virus-infected cells, (2) enhancement of T and B cell counts; (3) proliferation of dendritic cells; (4) regulation of cytokines and interleukins; (5) anti-inflammatory and antioxidant net effects; (6) no known adverse effect; and (7) modulation of NK, B, and T cells and global immune system function in a dose-dependent response in multiple subject groups (animal and human).  BioBran is arguably the most widely studied and most effective immunomodulatory polysaccharide.  Its net effect rivals that of any other phytochemical and although will never be classified as “essential” in biochemical terms, it is crucial to optimize your health and to help reduce the risk of chronic disease in combination with a plant-based diet and daily exercise, among other health-promoting behaviors.

Thus, we can conclude that the documented immunomodulatory effects of acemannan, BioBran, and other polysaccharides are very potent and can help to counteract the effects on various forms of cancer in humans.  If you already have a health challenge, then the use of these polysaccharides are even more important to counteract the complications associated with disease.  The positive effects of these polysaccharides are likely even more potent with an increasing daily dose.  To be sure, supplementing with polysaccharides from different sources provides the opportunity for you to receive a wide range of phytochemicals with multiple health benefits.  Thus, polysaccharides very likely are the most important non-essential nutrients to maintain health and help to prevent chronic diseases.

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