Glyconutrients Could Offer Novel Approach to Asthma

Vol. 11 •Issue 7 • Page 41
Glyconutrients Could Offer Novel Approach to Asthma

Born with a severe lung infection, Matthew Wolf lived his first weeks shrouded by an oxygen hood in neonatal intensive care. At 10 months old, he contracted bronchial pneumonia, after which he developed severe chronic asthma.

Those times were scary, remembered Matthew’s mother, Kelli Wolf. “I used to sit at night and watch my sleeping child struggle to breath,” she said.

As he grew, Matthew’s lung health worsened, dragging down the rest of his body with it. If a playmate passed him a cold, Matthew developed coughing fits that lasted for months. His joints ached severely, and it pained him too much to stand up, let alone run, skip or jump.

Wolf ushered her son to doctors weekly, but his respiratory difficulties failed to improve. “They (doctors) gave me shopping bags full of medicine,” Wolf said. She recalls one office visit when a nurse poured her a bottle of prednisone like it was candy.

In seven years, Matthew visited 30 pediatricians and six specialists in Nevada. At times, his lung capacity was less than 60 percent. Wolf found herself losing hope. “It was a nightmare and really sad to watch my little boy grow up that way,” she said. As Matthew’s health declined, she even considered looking for caskets.

Then Matthew visited Michael Schlachter, MD, a pulmonologist at the Lung Institute of Nevada. After hearing about the child’s medical odyssey and examining him thoroughly, Dr. Schlachter began supplementing Matthew’s diet with glyconutrients, a set of eight essential sugars that include glucose, galactose, mannose, fucose, xylose, n-acetylneuraminic acid, n-acetylgalactosamine and n-acetylglucosamine. Reports have suggested that when glyconutrients are present in proper amounts, they can decrease overstimulation in the immune system, thus suppressing inflammation associated with asthma.1

Within two weeks of using glyconutrients, Matthew showed a profound change in his asthma symptoms, and he was later able to reduce his medications. Wolf noticed color returning to her son’s face, and he gained energy.


Investigations into glycobiology and the science behind glyconutrients began as early as the 1960s, but researchers didn’t make any major advances into the area until the mid-1990s. This research suggested that glyconutrients combine in different sequences to form transmitters and re.ceivers that are necessary for cellular communication. When glyconutrients aren’t present or are synthesized incorrectly, cellular communication can break down, thus causing a disruption in the immune system.2

“The immune system is a fine-tuned, multi-faceted system, and some researchers believe asthma is a dysfunction of this system,” Dr. Schlachter said. Adding glyconutrients to asthma patients’ diets promotes cellular communication and avoids the dysfunction, he explained.

At first, this concept may seem radical to physicians, Dr. Schlachter admitted. “The idea that a simple blend of sugars ingested by a person can have ‘medicine-like’ effects goes against everything that has been taught in the past 100 years about sugars and their use by the body,” he said.

But anecdotal evidence about glyconutrients’ success is growing. C.E. Pippenger, PhD, the Peter C. and Pat Cook research professor in the department of biomedical/health sciences at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., has heard some anecdotal accounts from pediatric pulmonologists who have seen patients helped tremendously by glyconutrients. Their reports spurred him to conduct one of the country’s few double-blind, phyto-controlled studies of nutritional supplements in children with asthma.

In his study, Dr. Pippenger followed 100 patients with asthma and their use of glyconutrients, phytonutrients and a combination of both starting in January 2001. Ninety-two patients from the original group completed the study by June 2002. Most patients who didn’t complete the study left it due to compliance problems. He expects results will be available sometime this fall.

“We began the study because we believe the science surrounding glycobiology and receptors and interrelationships between sugars, cell function and the immune system are justified,” Dr. Pippenger said. “If we can demonstrate that there’s an effectiveness to nutritional supplements, then we can have a strong foundation for administering these to asthmatic children. They may decrease the amount of other medications the children need.”

Sharon Riesen, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, Calif., also has been studying glyconutrients and their effects on children with asthma. Preliminary results of her open-label, controlled crossover study show 60 percent to 70 percent of its participants who used glyconutrients reported improvement of their asthma symptoms. Glyconutrients appeared safe, and no child involved in the study needed to stop due to side effects, “which is incredibly rare, even with placebo,” she said.

“My passion is to get this information out to physicians that they could be using glyconutrients instead of medicines like prednisone,” Dr. Riesen said. “The side effects of so many of the asthma medicines are intense. To have the kind of success that glyconutrients appear to have with asthma without side effects and have the majority of physicians not know anything about it is a shame.”


While he has heard of glyconutrients, Gailen Marshall, MD, PhD, associate professor and director of the division of allergy and clinical immunology at the University of Texas, said it’s still far from clear whether or not the supplements would be efficacious in all asthma patients. He wants to see the objective evidence from randomized, controlled clinical trials before he will recommend nutritional supplements as a part of asthma therapy.

“If individuals whose asthma symptoms are reasonably controlled by medications that have demonstrated effectiveness abandon them in favor of a more ‘natural’ solution that doesn’t work for them, the risk for morbidity and mortality is not trivial in their case,” Dr. Marshall said.

Glyconutrients don’t require a physician’s pre-scription or approval and can be purchased as .nutritional supplements, concentrates or extracts. A few companies sell the supplements, Dr. Schlachter said, but the Food and Drug Administration forbids marketing a specific nutrient as having direct or indirect association with a disease.

Asthma patients never should discontinue use of any medication without the supervision of their physician, Dr. Schlachter stressed. Similarly, patients choosing to supplement their therapy with products like glyconutrients should inform their doctors so they can follow the patients’ disease states closely and adjust pharmaceutical therapy as needed. For example, in Matthew’s case, he now only needs his albuterol inhaler in case of an asthma flare-up or if he develops a deep cough.

Today, at age 12, Matthew is a happy and healthy middle school student. He loves to cook and plays violin, which his mom says is exceptional because his motor skills suffered from the medications he took for so long. He’s even completed the mile run in gym class and rarely needs to use his inhaler before or after participating.

“Matthew shows a lot of heart, and running the mile was exciting for him,” his mom said. “He’s like a brand-new kid.”


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Debra Yemenijian is editorial assistant of ADVANCE.