All About Aloe: Polysaccharides and Acemannan!
In the first of a series of special blog posts about aloe vera, I am going to talk about polysaccharides! This will probably be every bit as boring as it sounds, but to make the most of later posts, it seems like the best place to start! Hopefully by the end you will have a better understanding of how aloe vera works and what makes our own new range of aloe vera products so impressive.
Before I begin, let me politely ask any chemistry professors to look away now! This will be very much a simple guide to polysaccharides, focussing particularly on acemannan. We won’t be drawing out molecular structures and concerning ourselves with acetylated bonds or any of that! I only want to clear up a bit of confusion around polysaccharides, GAGs and acemannan, not get my PhD in biochemistry!
Let’s start with some terminology.
Polysaccharides are large molecules made up of chains of small sugar units called monosaccharides. It is important to note that here we are using the proper chemistry definition of the word sugar – we are not referring to the sweet white powder colloquially referred to as sugar whose actual chemical name is sucrose. Eating lots of sucrose is bad for us, but monosaccharides are essential to life!
Mucopolysaccharides are a class of polysaccharide. All mucopolysaccharides are polysaccharides, but not all polysaccharides are mucopolysaccharides. (All dogs are animals. Not all animals are dogs!) A mucopolysaccharide is characterised by the way its sugar units stick to each other and repeat their pattern.
Glycosaminoglycan is just another word for mucopolysaccharide. It is often shortened to GAG.
There are four different classes of glycosaminoglycans, but we will not be getting into that. All we need to know for the purposes of this post is that all glycosaminoglycans have certain characteristics, but they are not all identical. All people have certain characteristics that make them recognisably human, but they don’t all look alike – think of GAG molecules like that!
Glycosaminoglycan molecules strongly attract water, which allows them to create mucous membranes over body tissues. This feature means they are commonly used by the body as lubricants or shock absorbers. As discussed in this blog post, the urothelial layer of the bladder is covered with a layer of GAG molecules sometimes referred to as the GAG layer. This provides a layer of protection that stops urine coming into direct contact with the more delicate bladder wall layers beneath. Sometimes the GAG layer becomes compromised, which can lead to irritation, inflammation, pain and even ulceration. Not all interstitial cystitis patients exhibit visible erosion to the GAG layer, but many do.
Outside of the bladder, GAG molecules are important for the structural integrity of the skin, cartilage, tendons and blood vessels. They are also found in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and have important roles to play in cell signalling, which helps to regulate functions like cell growth and proliferation and wound repair.
Aloe vera contains a wide range of constituents, including polysaccharides, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and plant sterols. Specific polysaccharides present include glucomannan, acemannan, pectin and cellulose. It is acemannan on which we will focus our attention, because this is considered to be the most bioactive of aloe vera’s polysaccharides.
Acemannan is a mucopolysaccharide found in aloe vera leaves and present most abundantly in the inner gel. Acemannan itself is mainly composed of mannose and glucose molecules. It has a wide range of actions, including anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, gastrointestinal, wound healing, antiviral, antioxidant, antitumor and osteogenic. It is these first four that I find especially interesting for interstitial cystitis patients.
Interstitial cystitis is characterised by inflammation of the bladder, often with low-level chronic infection. Sometimes ulceration can be seen on the bladder wall (though this is NOT necessary for diagnosis to be made and certainly is not present in all bladder pain patients). Often, those with chronic bladder pain conditions have gastrointestinal comorbidities such as candida overgrowth, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, irritable bowel syndrome or leaky gut. The properties of acemannan therefore make it well-placed to be helpful in painful bladder conditions!
Acemannan is largely comprised of mannose, which has been shown to protect against recurrent urinary tract infections. I should think most people reading this have used or continue to use D-Mannose! Meanwhile, aloe vera is listed as a complementary and alternative therapy used by interstitial cystitis patients in a 2002 article by Kristene E. Whitmore.
Acemannan is such a crucial component of aloe vera that the International Aloe Science Council will not recognise a substance as being true aloe if it does not contain acceptable levels. While other components in aloe vera might certainly confer their own medicinal benefits, it has been found that aloe polysaccharides can exhibit physiological activities even on their own.
All of this means that it is crucial to purchase aloe vera with good levels of acemannan present. Unfortunately, some manufacturing methods can destroy this precious component. Fortunately, each Tiny Pioneer aloe vera product contains excellent acemannan levels, as substantiated by independent laboratory testing. I will introduce each aloe product in more detail in a later blog post, but for now, here is the key data:
Tiny Pioneer Aloe 200 Capsulesprovide 36.75mg of acemannan per capsule. These are our budget capsule option.
Tiny Pioneer Aloe 600 Capsules provide 70.6mg of acemannan per capsule. These are our premium capsule option.
Tiny Pioneer Simply Aloe Powder provides 283mg of acemannan per 1.5 gram serving. Tiny Pioneer Aloe Mallow Powder and Tiny Pioneer Blend No. 3 should provide the same acemannan content for their respective serving sizes, as they are made using the same aloe vera powder. These products contain the ‘best’ aloe, but the powder delivery makes them less convenient and appealing than capsules.
I think you will agree that acemannan is a pretty useful thing – no wonder aloe vera has such varied applications! Interstitial cystitis patients often tell me that after taking high potency aloe vera capsules, they noticed unexpected improvements in their arthritis, bowel issues, or skin problems too. Hopefully this blog has helped you to understand why!
I am honestly so delighted (and relieved!) with the acemannan content of our own range of aloe vera products. It was well worth the expense of having them independently lab tested just to give me peace of mind that the products really are as high-quality as I anticipated. You can do all the research in the world and ask endless questions, but until you’ve got independent lab results in front of you, you can’t be absolutely sure that you made the right decisions! I will write in more detail about each of our aloe products another time, but for now you can read about them on their respective product pages. I can’t wait to hear how you get on with them!
Wishing you the best of health,
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