What are the Medical Uses of N-Acetylglucosamine?

Maggie J. Hall

Medical research involving n-acetylglucosamine indicates the potential for a variety of autoimmune disease treatments using the glucose derivative. Without variations of the amino sugar’s presence various hereditary maladies occur. The glucose derivative participates in numerous body functions, and many believe glucosamine, with or without chondroitin, alleviates discomfort and inflammation in persons suffering from arthritis.

N-acetylglucosamine’s presence in the thymus gland seems to prevent the formation and growth of abnormal thymus cells.
N-acetylglucosamine’s presence in the thymus gland seems to prevent the formation and growth of abnormal thymus cells.

Researchers are discovering that many disease processes occur in part due to the lack of or an insufficient supply of n-acetylglucosamine. Contained within the brain and central nervous system, the monosaccharide enhances overall function along with the learning process, and deficiencies may contribute to the deterioration of the coating that protects nerve cells, which gives rise to multiple sclerosis. N-acetylglucosamine’s presence in the thymus gland seems to prevent the formation and growth of abnormal thymus cells (T-cells), which contribute to autoimmune disorders, as these cells attack various body processes.

In some cases, n-acetylglucosamine helps defend against the flu and other viruses.
In some cases, n-acetylglucosamine helps defend against the flu and other viruses.

As a natural constituent of mucosal linings throughout the body, the amino sugar is decreased in persons having Chrohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis. Scientists believe supplementation improves the repair process in this area. Additionally, increased levels also appear to decrease cholesterol absorption. Increasing the amino sugar’s presence in the pancreas and liver may better regulate insulin production in diabetic patients. Besides showing promise in combating autoimmune diseases, N-acetylglucosamine also acts as a defense mechanism against tumors and viruses, particularly appearing to prevent the spread of influenza and herpes viruses.

The exoskeletons of numerous insects and crustaceans are comprised of a substance known as chitin, which is made of multiple n-acetylglucosamine chains. In a pure form, the substance is flexible yet strong, having a leather-like texture. Sutures made from this substance not only dissolve naturally, but also seem to enhance would healing. It also serves as a thickening agent in foods and medications.

Various hereditary diseases cause a lack of n-acetylglucosamine in enzymatic form. When this deficiency occurs, abnormal accumulations of a complex carbohydrate known as keratan sulfate develop. As this glycosaminoglycan is present in numerous body tissues, a wide array of symptoms generally result. Individuals may develop physical and skeletal abnormalities along with dangerous organ enlargement and neurological involvement.

N-acetylglucosamine supplements are readily available over-the-counter and may be referred to as chitosan in the list of ingredients. The body eliminates the chitosan through the kidneys, so physicians recommend taking divided doses. Health care providers advise that products containing glucosamine hydrochloride and glucosamine sulfate are not the same as n-acetylglucosamine and may not produce the desired effects.

Some individuals who suffer from osteoarthritis take both glucosamine and chondroitin supplements.
Some individuals who suffer from osteoarthritis take both glucosamine and chondroitin supplements.

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