American Cancer Society/January 25, 2006

Other common name(s): glyconutritionals, Ambrotose, Glycentials, others

Scientific/medical name(s): mannose, galactose, fucose, xylose, glucose, sialic acid, N-acetylglucosamine, N-acetylgalactosamine


“Glyconutrients” are a group of 8 sugars (monosaccharides) that are used by cells in the body to make glycoproteins (proteins with sugar molecules attached) and glycolipids (lipids with sugar molecules attached). These molecules are important in the communication that occurs between cells. In recent years, various combinations of these compounds have been sold as dietary supplements with a supposed wide range of health benefits.


These nutrients can all be made by the human body. There is no reliable scientific evidence that people are deficient in these sugars, or that dietary supplements containing them can prevent, treat, or cure cancer or any other disease.

How is it promoted for use?

Glyconutrients are often promoted as being “essential sugars” likethe essential amino acids–in other words, sugars that the body cannot do without. Proponents of supplements containing glyconutrients claim that people are often deficient in these sugars. While it is true that these sugars are needed for signaling between cells, they do not have to be obtained directly from the diet. The human body can make them from other nutrients normally found in the diet.

Promoters claim that glyconutrient supplements have a wide range of beneficial effects, including improving memory and sleep, lessening anxiety and depression, and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They are also claimed to help retain muscle mass, reduce body fat, aid in wound healing, and reduce symptoms from autoimmune disorders such as allergies and arthritis.

Perhaps the biggest claim for these products is that they help boost the immune system, which in turn supposedly can help against a range of diseases, including cancer.

What does it involve?

The sugars sold as glyconutrients are found in many plant sources, but mixtures of glyconutrients are more commonly sold as dietary supplements in capsule form. Each brand of capsule may have different ingredients, so there is no standard dosage.

Because glyconutrients are sold as dietary supplements in the United States (as opposed to drugs), companies that sell them don’t have to prove they are effective, or even safe, as long as they don’t claim they can prevent, treat, or cure any specific disease.

What is the history behind it?

Researchers began studying glycoproteins and glycolipids in the middle of the 20th century and over time have studied the structure and functions of many of these molecules. The importance of these molecules in cellular signaling has become apparent in the last few decades, although many of the details of their actions remain to be worked out.

Although proponents of glyconutrient supplements claim that people are deficient in some of the sugars used to make glycoproteins, researchers have found that the human body can make these substances on its own.

Glyconutrients have become popular as dietary supplements only in the last decade or so, in large part due to aggressive promotion by marketing companies.

What is the evidence?

There is a wealth of laboratory evidence that glycoproteins are important in communication between cells, and that this in turn may affect body systems such as the immune system.

However, other than the rare exception of people with certain inherited genetic diseases, there is no reliable evidence that people are deficient in the sugars considered “glyconutrients.” Nor is there evidence that such deficiencies are leading to disease.

There are no reliable, controlled studies in the medical literature to show that taking glyconutrient supplements has any effect on cancer or other disorders. The few individual case reports often mentioned by promoters of such products have appeared mainly in obscure medical journals. More rigorous studies will be needed to clarify any possible benefits from taking such supplements.

Are there any possible problems or complications?

It is unclear if any rigorous safety testing has been done on dietary supplements containing glyconutrients, although the ingredients are mainly from plant sources often used as foods, and there appear to be few side effects other than possible allergic reactions to specific components.

Relying on this type of treatment alone, and avoiding conventional medical care, may have serious health consequences.

Additional Resources

More Information from Your American Cancer Society

The following information on complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful to you. These materials may be ordered from our toll-free number (1-800-ACS-2345).

  • Guidelines for Using Complementary and Alternative Methods
  • How to Know What Is Safe: Choosing and Using Dietary Supplements
  • American Cancer Society Operational Statement on Complementary and Alternative Methods of Cancer Management
Note: This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical situation.

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