Q. Can so-called “glyconutrients” boost immunity and cure illness, as claimed?
A. There’s no convincing evidence that these supplements enhance the immune system, let alone fight AIDS, colitis, diabetes, high cholesterol, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, or any other medical condition.
Sold primarily by the supplement manufacturer Mannatech under the product line Ambrotose, glyconutrients contain eight monosaccharides (that is, simple carbohydrates, or sugars). Mannatech alleges that because of soil depletion and overprocessing, our diets are lacking in all but two—glucose and galactose—of these sugars.
You may be surprised to know that sugars are not just “empty” calories but do, in fact, play an essential role in many biological functions, including cell-to-cell communication and immunity. There’s actually an emerging and important field of science, called glycobiology, which explores the function of carbohydrates in health and disease. But glyconutrient marketers take a big leap when they say that consuming sugars in supplements has health benefits.
First, we are not deficient in any sugars. Our bodies are able to convert the sugars in foods (such as fruits and vegetables) from one form to the other forms as needed. There is no evidence that toxins, stress, drugs, or other factors interfere with the conversion process, as the marketers claim. Nor is there evidence that relying on our bodies to create the sugars instead of ingesting them in food or supplements causes any problems.
Marketers provide long lists of studies that supposedly support the use of glyconutrients for all kinds of medical conditions, as well as for general health. But these are unpublished conference presentations, anecdotes, and lab or animal studies, or they are from obscure journals of questionable reputation. We could find no well-designed research showing health benefits of glyconutrient supplements. Don’t waste your money on these expensive products.
Keep in mind: Glyconutrients are sold primarily via multilevel marketing. If you buy the product, you can become a distributor and then sell it to your friends and relatives, who sell it to their friends, etc., with profits passing up to the top of the pyramid, at least in theory. Such marketing often involves questionable practices and dubious health claims. Indeed, Mannatech is being sued by investors on such charges.