Blog Post

The Troubled History of Glyconutrients

ambrotoseJW writes: "I have a question about one of your blogs on Women of Grace where you mentioned that if science is not backing something we should not use it. I have used a nutritional supplement [Ambrotose] for over 14 years with wonderful health benefits. With the discovery of the product there were only the testimonies of the benefits people were seeing. . . .

"And the company and product was under huge scrutiny. However, over 20 years of research now finds the science has caught up to the product. We now know why people have the amazing benefits they do and this new technology is being taught in medical school. How does that compare to what you are saying about Homeopathy and other nutrients our bodies are deficient in.   "Secondly, I have used tapping or Emotional Freedom Technique, far infrared, the chi machine, bio feedback. Are these all in the new age area."

This is a really great question!

First of all, Women of Grace® puts forth Church teaching on the use of alternatives - which states that untested means are not to be used for serious, life-threatening and contagious conditions. This means that you can drink chamomile tea before bedtime or take fiber supplements for regularity, but you can't use acupuncture to treat cancer or go to an "energy worker" to get rid of chicken pox.

The reason why the Church asks that we use proven means to treat serious diseases is because unproven means aren't really means at all and the use of them may result in subjecting our loved ones and, in the case of contagious diseases, our communities to unnecessary suffering. It is considered to be a matter of Christian charity.

As for the supplement you have been using, Ambrotose, this product does not have the backing of science.

According to the company selling this product, Texas-based Mannatech, Ambrotose, is a simple nutritional supplement that helps the cells in one's body communicate with one another. The company claims certain sugars may be lacking in people's diet and that using a "glyconutrient" supplement which contains these sugars - such as Ambrotose - health can be enhanced or even restored. Their website is full of research listings from reputable journals about the wonders of this new glycobiology which are why consumers such as JW believe the product is scientifically sound.

Unfortunately, this is not true. While some of the studies listed on the site do show positive effects from Ambrotose, they were funded by Mannatech. Not surprisingly, independent studies have much different results which is why experts in the field say Ambrotose and glycobiology have nothing in common.

Two experts in the field of glycobiology, Ronald Schnaar and Hudson Freeze, confront what they call the "Glyconutrient scam" in this article which appears in the prestigious Oxford Journals. " . . . (L)egitimate discoveries in glycobiology have been used as marketing tools to help sell plant extracts termed 'glyconutrients',” they state.

Dr. Freeze from the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, Calif., told ABC's 20/20 that while there have been authentic scientific studies conducted to determine the impact drinking glyconutrients have on people, it was found that these supplements do little more than "increase flatulence," Freeze said.

But that's not stopping the glyconutrient industry from growing. With a little false marketing and carefully worded websites, the glyconutrient business is booming with a sales force of over half a million people and raking in nearly a half billion dollars a year.

Ambrotose is a pricey glyconutrient supplement, sold via multi-level marketing sales associates, and can cost up to $200 a month - more than some prescription drugs. And the reason people like JW believe it works is because their sales associates have been caught on camera boasting about the miracles this product supposedly works such as causing tumors to disappear and curing leukemia.

I suppose this shouldn't surprise anyone seeing as the founder of Mannatech, Samuel Caster, was formerly involved in selling a pest repellant known as the Electrocat which the Texas Attorney General declared was a "hoax."

Nor would this be the last time Caster had a run-in with the Texas Attorney General. Charges were filed against Mannatech in 2005 for unlawful and misleading sales practices regarding their glyconutrient products.

Three Nobel prize winners also filed a complaint with the New York State Attorney General's office for the use of their names in Mannatech advertising. The scientists complained that the company was falsely citing their research.

This is not just "huge scrutiny" - these are serious charges that reveal unethical business practices. And it explains why the company's profits have been steadily eroding over the last few years with reported net losses of $20.6 million in 2011.

About the only thing going for this company - and probably keeping it alive - is the endorsement of Dr. Ben Carson, the popular pediatric neuroscientist from Johns Hopkins who swears by glyconutrients and has spoken at several Mannatech conferences.

Some might be impressed with Dr. Carson's star power, but I'm not - especially not when it comes to my health. I would not even consider going to a doctor who had these kinds of complaints filed against them so I question why anyone would do business with Mannatech or be interested in anything this company is selling.

As for the other practices you mention, with the exception of Biofeedback, all of them are New Age and have no scientific backing.