Scientists have discovered a new function for the cell surface sugar structures we teach about in our classes–they allow proper communication to take place which is critical for a healthy immune system. These sugar receptors form a sugar shroud around the outside of cells called the glycocalyx. It is like a beard of sugars covering the face of the cell.

Now scientists have also discovered that cells on the surface of blood vessels called your vascular endothelium perform a very different and interesting function. The glycocalyx on these surface cells actually shield and protect the circulatory system (vascular walls) from direct exposure to blood flow.  Research has shown that the glycocalyx is composed of a negatively charged network of glycoproteins and glycolipids. This electric force field keeps the friction of blood flowing within the vascular system from directly rubbing against and damaging the surface cells (endothelium) in the blood vessel.  The blood flow is buffered by an electrical charge off the sugar antennas which minimizes friction. (Van de Berg BM, Nieuwdorp M, Stroes ESG, et al. Glycocalyx and endothelial (dys) function: from mice to men. Pharmacol Rep. 2006;57:75–80. )  Its protective function extends throughout the vascular system.

A similar example of this protective function is the slime on the outside of a fish. The glycocalyx on the epithelial cells on the skin surface of the fish is essentially a functional “biofilm.” This “film” allows the fish to glide through the water with less friction. In the vascular system of the human body, the glycocalyx are on the surface of vascular endothelial cells which line the lumen of all blood vessels. They can be up to 11 micrometers thick.  It is present throughout capillaries and arteries and veins. In addition, the glycocalyx also consists of a wide range of enzymes (eNOS, ACE, SOD3, etc.) and proteins (growth factors, chemokines, antithrombin, etc.) that regulate and protect the endothelium. They serve to reinforce the glycocalyx barrier against vascular and other diseases.

Having a healthy and properly constructed glycocalyx is imperative to prevent all disease. We are learning more about the critical nature these sugars have in enabling our heart and circulatory system to efficiently pump blood throughout the body. This impacts our understanding of heart disease and atherosclerosis. If you are not getting enough of these essential sugar-nutrients in your food (and we know they are gravely missing from our food supply) then it is imperative to supplement them. Finding safe sources for them can be tricky. If you would like to know what the GRM has vetted as safe and trusted you can request a list by going to the GRMVetted webpage here. 

 

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