Bread and Pasta aren't all bad. The Health Benefits of Polysaccharides.

Bread and Pasta aren't all bad. The Health Benefits of Polysaccharides.

According to a 2009 published paper, bioactive compounds are non-essential and essential compounds, found in small amounts in nature and specifically in plants and certain foods. They are part of the food chain and their consumption influences human health. Some characteristic examples of bioactive compounds are: resveratrol, lycopene, polysaccharides and others. (1,2)

What is a Polysaccharide?

The term polysaccharide has a Greek origin from the words “poly” which means many and sacchar- which means sugar. Polysaccharides are long chain monosaccharides linked by glycosidic binds. The monosaccharides that appear more frequently as parts of polysaccharides are fructose, galactose, glucose and mannose. Polysaccharides are composed of ten to up to thousand monosaccharides arranged in chains. On the other hand, oligosaccharides are composed of three to 10 monosaccharides.

The main polysaccharides are three:

● starch

● glycogen

● cellulose (3)

Among food polysaccharides, starch-derived products are the most abundant and the remainder are known as non-starch polysaccharides. (4)

Glycogen and starch serve as short-term energy stores in animals and plants, respectively. On the other hand, cellulose which is known as the most abundant organic molecule on earth, has a structural role as it is the main component of plant cell walls. The glucose units of cellulose are linked differently than the ones in starch and glycogen, making cellulose a tougher fiber. Therefore wood (plenty of cellulose) is so tough. (3)

Food sources of polysaccharides

Starch takes the second place after cellulose in availability and it is the world’s

chief source of food carbohydrate. The main sources of starch are grains (oats, corn, rice, wheat, barley and their products (cereal bars, cookies, bread, pasta, pastries), legumes, potatoes, yam and others. The two main sources of glycogen are animal liver and shellfish. Cellulose is abundant in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, peas, most of the legumes and others. (5)

Health Benefits of Polysaccharides

Polysaccharides and Diabetes

It has been reported that several polysaccharides have anti-diabetic activity and their use as adjuncts to conventional therapies is increasing in many countries. Therefore, scientists conducted a literature review and concluded that 114 types of polysaccharides from 78 kinds of natural sources have shown anti-diabetic properties. Additionally, their potential to lower blood sugar levels was shown to be equally or more efficient than those of synthetic diabetic agents. (6)

Another recently published review highlighted the great number of natural polysaccharides that possess anti-diabetic effect. Polysaccharides show their effects by different ways like the elevation of plasma insulin, the increase of insulin sensitivity, the increased glucose use of peripheral tissue and others. (7)

Polysaccharides and Cholesterol

In an animal study, subjects were administered polysaccharides from Laminaria japonica for 28 days. The results showed that polysaccharides administration prevented increased serum insulin levels in diabetic mice. Additionally, it decreased Total Cholesterol, Triglyceride and LDL-Cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels. Furthermore, there was an increase in HDL-Cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels. These results confirmed that polysaccharides possess hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic activities. (8)

Polysaccharides and Blood Pressure

Scientists (2012) investigated the effects of a 5-week oral administration of acidic polysaccharides from gastrodia rhizome. They reported that the administration of acidic polysaccharides resulted to a reduction of the blood pressure of 14.9 mmHg, indicating that these polysaccharides affect the blood pressure significantly. (9)

Polysaccharides as Antioxidants

In a Chinese study, five polysaccharides from an unprocessed Chinese traditional herbal medicine (Chinese Angelica) were extracted and purified. Scientists reported that processing could improve the antioxidative activities of the herb. Moreover, one of the five polysaccharides had the strongest antioxidative activities. Additionally, researchers concluded that the antioxidative activities of this polysaccharide might relate to its composition and structural characterization. (10)

Polysaccharides and Immunity

In an animal study (2012) extracellular polysaccharides were evaluated for their immunomodulation and antitumor activities. It was reported that these polysaccharides which were isolated from Porphyridium cruentum, showed strong immunoenhancing activity. Furthermore, this study presented the unique mechanism of the antitumor effect of polysaccharides. (11)

Polysaccharides and Liver

In a recently published article, chemical composition and hepatoprotective function of the polysaccharides extracted from Zizyphus jujube cv. Huanghetanzao was evaluated. The treatment of subjects with these polysaccharides resulted in improved markers of liver’s condition, which was significant compared to the commercial liver-injury treatment drug. Thus, researchers suggested that these polysaccharides could be used both for prevention and treatment of liver injuries caused by toxic drugs and chemicals. (12)

Antimicrobial function of Polysaccharides

In a published study of 2013, researchers evaluated the efficacy of Epimedium acuminatum Franch. polysaccharide and concluded that it exhibits not only antihemolytic activity but also significant antimicrobial activity. (13)

Polysaccharides and Fatigue

In an animal study (2012) researchers demonstrated the anti-fatigue effects of the Radix Rehmanniae Preparata polysaccharides. After the oral administration of the polysaccharides, they evaluated its anti-fatigue activity and they found an increase of the storage of hepatic glycogen and a significant decrease in fatigue markers like the blood lactic acid contents. (14)

Polysaccharides and Cognition

Many patients claim that polysaccharides improve their cognitive performance. It was only in 2015 when scientists conducted a related research on plant polysaccharide intake in healthy middle-aged adults. It was reported that the polysaccharide intake resulted in acute behavioral improvement. Specifically, a significant improvement in recognition and working memory performance was observed in the group that consumed the non-starch polysaccharide supplement. (15)

Polysaccharides are part of our daily diet. There is a great number of polysaccharides with a variety of properties. Therefore, it is important to consume a variety of polysaccharides. The continuous use of expensive drugs with several side-effects, and the demand of effective, nontoxic and affordable drugs for patients, increases the need for regular use of polysaccharides. No matter where you live or what kind of foods are available, you can take supplements that provide the beneficial nutrients of polysaccharides. Thus, you can achieve better health, limiting the drug use and providing energy and quality in your life.


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