What are polysaccharides?
Polysaccharides are supplements that contain monosaccharides (or simple sugars), something that some nutritionists and healthcare professionals believe have become deficient in today's over-processed and fast-food laden diets.
Essential vs Non Essential Nutrients
Nutrients can be classified into two groups, non-essential and essential. Non-essential nutrients are the types of things our body produces naturally, such as cholesterol, that may be present in our diet and utilized by our bodies, but we don't need to eat them in order to enjoy good health. Essential nutrients, on the other hand, are those that our body needs, but cannot produce on its own. Examples of essential nutrients are certain vitamins, minerals, fatty and amino acids that can be obtained either by a proper diet or via supplementation. This is where the debate begins. Are polysaccharides essential or non-essential?
Getting Enough Sugar is not the Problem
The body has naturally occurring enzymes that have the ability to convert carbohydrates back to glucose, their simplest form. So why the need to supplement? Polysaccharide proponents suggest that it is not the lack of sugar in our diets that is the overriding problem, but rather the types of sugars we are lacking. There are simple sugars, known as saccharides, considered necessary for our bodies to function optimally: fucose (not to be confused with fructose), xylose, glucose, N-acetylglucosamine, N-acetylgalactosamine, galactose, mannose, and N-acetylneuraminic acid. These sugars work with the fats and proteins in our bodies in order to produce a sort of communication device that exists on the outer membrane of every cell allowing cells to recognize and interact with each other. But in order for this device to work as a high functioning part of the entire bodily system, all eight sugars must be present.
Supplementation Can Address Dietary Deficiencies
The people who swear by polysaccharide or glyconutrient supplementation suggest that if the body is only capable of converting glucose into six of the eight sugars on its own, then at least one sugar remains essential: lactose which is needed by the body in order for enzymes to break it down into glucose and galactose. There is a condition, known as leukocyte adhesion deficiency, by where a person is unable to convert a specific sugar due to a lack of specific enzyme, but this is a rare genetic condition. But, if a person is lacking in any particular area of their diet, whether it be in complex carbohydrates or the dairy needed to obtain lactose, they might then become polysaccharide deficient.
Personal Experience is the True Test
So, what are the principal sources of dietary sugars or glyconutrients? In a healthy diet, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes and dairy should provide all that is necessary. But do they? The jury is still out. While producers and users claim all sorts of medical benefits to polysaccharide supplementation - anything from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome relief to tumor shrinkage and cancer prevention - the research is not completely there to back these claims just yet. Does this mean that polysaccharide supplementation should be disregarded? Not necessarily. The subject of glycobiology and polysaccharides, more specifically, have been getting a lot of attention. The best way to find out if supplementation would be beneficial to your own health would be to perhaps give it a try.