Glycocalyx – What’s Snot All About?

*This post was written in 2010 as the second chapter of a book that I had started writing about nutrition and my own struggles with health. I’ve shared other sections from the book but I had never shared the following chapter because of the taboo nature of nasal mucous — common sense suggested that it is just too controversial a topic to write about nasal congestion — but snot’s all right, we need it to help stabilize the thin layers of membranous cell walls that surround all of our cells and organs.

“Good behavior is attained at a young age.”                            – Burkino Faso proverb

[1, African wisdom desk calendars, Annetta Miller]

Is picking it and eating it a disgusting and filthy habit or an oral vaccination boost to the immune system? Traditional Eskimo cultures conserved fluid and heat by picking and eating it. [3]

Just what is snot? It may be described as a freeform gelatinous matrix of glycolipids and glycoproteins that covers our internal surfaces and is known as the glycocalyx.

Good snot, bad snot, it’s not all the same. Healthy mucous layers are two millimeters thick — about the same width as a piece of thread or single strand of hair. Obviously we can produce a lot more than that in response to sickness or allergies. Over the course of my life I have had a lot of experience with nasal mucous and congestion. Most of my childhood was spent breathing through my mouth because I was so congested, so often. On a good day I would be able to breath through one or the other nostril but usually both were congested – and messy. Eventually I learned how to tell whether I needed antibiotics or more antihistamine based on the color, texture, and smell of my nasal mucous.

Gross yellowish-green mucous that had a rotten smell and a stringy, sticky texture meant go to the doctor and get antibiotics because the congestion has become a lung infection.

Thin, watery, clear or whitish mucous is produced in large amounts during allergy attacks. Mucous produced due to allergies didn’t have smell associated with it in my experience. The thin fluid mucous produced in such large amounts during allergies may be helping the body carry the allergen debris up and out of the lungs. Constantly suppressing this response with medications may produce short term symptom relief, however in the long run using medications that dry up mucous may be allowing the allergens full access to deeper lung tissue made accessible through the artificially opened airways. The mucous is part of our body’s defense system.

Coughing and sneezing and moving the mucous out may be better for your health than regularly using an over the counter medication. Cleaning up the environment and removing dust and allergens would also probably be better for your health, when possible, ie: you can stop smoking but you have little control over smog alert days beyond wearing a face mask and voting for environmental protection; or you can vacuum and wash your bedding weekly but you may not be able to give away the family pet as easily.

I tried a nasal steroid spray for the first time recently and discovered myself producing a brand new type of mucous. My airways felt more open than usual but I also developed a new cough that felt like I had something stuck in my throat that I was choking on, like a cat with a hairball. When I successfully cleared the mucous, it appeared a typical whitish color but the texture was much stickier and slimier — more like my childhood toy can of Slime. I stopped using the steroid nasal spray fairly quickly; free flowing snot’s all right — sticky, slimy snot is not — it isn’t able to be expelled as easily. Free flowing mucous allows the body to carry allergens and pathogens up and out of the lungs when the mucous is thin enough to allow productive coughing.

Occasionally I would blow my nose and find little round globule of clear semi-solid mucous — fascinating for an easily amused and not easily disgusted child — they looked just like a gelatin dessert without the bright food coloring. The chemical structure of mucous is similar to a gelatin dessert or fruit jams and jelly. Fruit jams and jelly thickens when the pectin fiber is cooked. Heating the pectin fibers cause them to change shape and form the semi-solid structure of the jam or jelly. Gelatinous mixtures are all fairly chemically unstable and minor changes in acidity or hydration may cause changes in the structure or cause the gelatinous mixture to dissolve back into a fluid.

Chemical mixtures are made when we cook food. Tiny chemical changes can produce big changes in a “free-form gelatinous matrix.” You could experiment by adding a little lemon juice or carbonated beverage to a bowl of a gelatinous dessert or scoop of jam. The acidity should cause the gelatinous structure to break apart and get watery looking again.

The glycocalyx may act a little like glue between cells or like a sealant coating pipes in a plumbing repair. The jelly-like glycocalyx helps protect our inner surfaces around cells and in the lining of blood vessels and throughout the intestinal tract. A healthy glycocalyx layer may help prevent allergens from leaking through the intestinal lining into the bloodstream. Pectin is important for making jam or jelly and eating fiber rich foods everyday is probably just as important for maintaining a healthy glycocalyx. Good sources of fiber include any whole plant foods such as: vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and herbs and spices. There is also a healthy type of fiber in edible insects called chitin.

Happy dining!

— on fiber rich foods of course.     😉

Read more about which types of fiber are beneficial within the GI tract and which types of foods and fiber might help with nasal congestion:  Nasal congestion and fiber; a glycocalyx clarification

 

A gelatin dessert.

*Having enough water every day is also important for healthy mucous. And the electrically active minerals sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium are also important in fluid balance and healthy mucous .

Read more: Electrolytes are essential, magnesium helps protect brain cells 

/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

 

 

 

 

 

Bioslime is another word that is used specifically to describe the gelatinous glycocalyx layer produced by pathogens on the surfaces of transplant devices and tubing used in patient’s wounds for drainage or tube feedings.

 

Transport across the glycocalyx; a link

More information and illustrations about the structure and function of the glycocalyx and tight junctions are available online from an academic textbook called, Molecular Cell Biology, 4th Ed.:

Interestingly, cells grown in a solution with very low concentrations of calcium ions formed a monolayer with a lack of tight junctions between the cells but when calcium ions were added to the solution, tight junctions formed between the cells within an hour.

–This could suggest that calcium ions are necessary for cell monolayers to be able to form the tight junctions — or it might suggest that tight junctions are formed between cells in the presence of calcium in order to prevent the calcium ions from passing between the cells. Or in other words: Does the presence of calcium ions allow the tight junctions to form? Or do the tight junctions form because there are calcium ions present that need to be prevented from passing through the cell monolayer?

More research has been done and it suggests that the intracellular calcium ion level is also important for maintaining strong tight junctions. Both intra- and extrcellular levels of calcium are kept under careful control during normal health. Tight junctions also will become disfunctional if intracellular calcium levels become elevated.

Magnesium ions inside of the cell are also important for controlling intracellular levels of calcium. Nutrients usually have to work together as a team.

/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

Glyco-compounds – essential sugar building blocks

Glyco- refers to glycogen which is sugar in a bigger starch form. Sugars are the building blocks of starches in the way that amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. The amino acids join together in straight chains like a string of beads or like letters in a word, a sentence, or a book. The straight protein chain can then fold into intricate shapes and form many chemicals.

However the sugars can actually connect to each other at each or most of the carbons in their structure – not just in one to one connections like beads on a necklace or letters in a sentence. Instead the sugars can connect at different ways and form many shapes like a Tinker Toy or Kinex building sets or like the words that can be built off of each other’s letters in the game Scrabble or Bananagrams.

Glucose and fructose are molecules that contain 6 carbons each but they are slightly different in shape – like mirror images – and our bodies need the glucose for building materials not the fructose. Fructose is an energy source (in other words it may be fattening if eaten in excess of the physical number of calories that are used up each day). Fructose is less useable as a building block – glucose is the form that is essential for our health. A molecule of table sugar is made from one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose.

Fucose, (6 C), mannose, (6 C), N-acetylglucosamine, (8 C), N-acetylneuraminic acid (11 C)  and galactose are also essential types of sugars with slightly different chemical forms. Some can be converted from one to another type but eating food sources may be better insurance (in case there are enzyme defects or other trace mineral deficiencies that may be reducing one’s ability to make enzymes).

The starches can code very complicated chemicals because the branching chain of sugar molecules can link together at more then one place – usually a bond can be formed at each of the carbon molecules in the molecule of sugar. So while there are fewer types of sugars than amino acids, each one can link together in several places and can create a more complex language in their branching shapes than is possible with the one to one connections of amino acids that from proteins.

The glyco-compounds form part of the jelly-like matrix of the glycocalyx layer. Proteins and lipids might be part of a glyco-compound. White blood cells can read and understand this glyco-language on the surfaces of other cells and allergens. Antigens and antibodies may not be effective if the diet doesn’t supply enough of the more unusual essential sugars.

Glyco-compounds dissolve in water better than the proteins or lipids (fats) would on their own. Glycolipids and glycoprotiens are nature’s way to help keep them suspended in water better. The sugar containing end of the compound dissolves in the watery fluid and helps keep the lipid or protein end moving along. The protein or fat by itself might separate from the fluid and stick to vessel walls or clot together into ungainly rafts of debris, which could lead to strokes or cardiovascular disease.

A life preserver keeps us suspended above water. The air trapped in the life preserver is keeping us mixed in the air environment and above the water while the body tries to sink. The floating masses of garbage in the oceans are suspended in a similar way.

Picture from: [thegoldenspiral.org/tag/environmental-terrorism/]

/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./