Ambrotose and Down Syndrome

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by Dr. Len Leshin, MD, FAAP

    Copyright 2002, 2006, 2010. All rights reserved

Go to List of Past Abstracts   Ambrotose® was developed in 1996 by the Mannatech company. Ambrotose® is described by Mannatech as "a blend of specific plant saccharides that provides support for the immune system. These saccharides are necessary for the body's creation of glycoforms, the structures on cell surfaces used to 'talk' to other cells." Mannatech's promotional materials go on to state that Ambrotose® provides 8 sugars necessary in glycoproteins: glucose, galactose, mannose, fucose, xylose, N-acetylglucosamine, N-acetylgalactosamine, and N-acetylneuraminic acid. Mannatech does not promote Ambrotose® for any specific disease or condition, but claims on its website and promotional materials that it promotes better working of the immune and endocrine systems of the body.
    Mannatech's products are not sold in stores, but is handled by a group of individuals (called "Associates")in a Multi-Level Marketing setup (the most well known MLM is Amway). United States federal regulations prohibit Mannatech from making claims that its product treats or cures specific conditions or diseases. Manntech itself has a policy that prohibits its Associates from making such claims, and Associates who violate this policy are subject to loss of their ability to distribute Mannatech products. However, many Associates persist in making claims on the internet and in telephone "seminars," that Ambrotose® can help fibromyalgia, diabetes, attention deficit disorder, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, colitis, neuralgia, chronic infections, and wound healing. Recently Down syndrome has been added to that list, with claims ranging from improvement of the immune system and attention span to eliminating the typical facial features of DS. Some parents have even been told by some Mannatech associates that Ambrotose® will "cure Down syndrome." If you are a parent of a child with Down syndrome in the USA and have been approached in such a manner, please contact Mannatech with the Associate's name at (972) 471-7400 (ask for the Legal Deaprtment). The Australian phone number is (02) 8437-7400.

Since there is no research that has been done specifically on Ambrotose® and children with Down syndrome, I will address the theories behind the product as presented on the website

First, some quick background: most proteins in cell membranes and proteins secreted by cells contain carbohydrates. The act of adding a carbohydrate to a protein is called glycosylation, and this makes fundamental changes to the physical traits of the protein. These combinations are then called glycoproteins. These special proteins play a major role in the immune system, especially in cell recognition.

People who wish to sell Ambrotose® point out correctly that we are learning more and more about how these glycoproteins contribute to disease. (An article in the July 2002 issue of Scientific American has a very good review of the subject.) However, what they don't tell you is that these diseases and conditions have not been shown to be due to dietary deficiencies. For instance, it is true that more and more infants are being diagnosed with disorders with protein glycosylation, but these are due to genetic mutations in enzymes involved in the process. In some conditions of faulty glycosylation it may be possible to treat these with certain sugars, but only in a correct ratio tailored for each individual condition. Ambrotose merchants respond that the Ambrotose® isn't designed to treat any condition, but to provide the body with "necessary building blocks" so the body can repair itself. This argument is based on one supposition: that we don't get enough of these sugars in our diet.

Of the eight sugars present in Ambrotose®, Mannatech claims that only glucose and galactose are found in the foods we eat; the other "rare" sugars ("glyconutrients") are no longer in our diet due to overworking of the soil, overprocessing of foods, etc. I have yet to find any facts that back up this assertion. But even if it were true, as long as we eat carbohydrates in a varied diet (fruits, vegetables and grains), our bodies can take these complex sugars and convert them to the other forms we need. Ambrotose® Associates often respond to this point by claiming that relying on our normal metabolism to create the necessary compounds instead of eating them increases the risk of metabolic errors, but I find no scientific evidence that this is a problem.

On the website, there are many references offered to give credence to the arguments given for using Ambrotose®. In looking at these references, I find many that have not been published in peer-review journals, and most of the studies that were don't actually back up the claims made. I've found general, sweeping statements made about biochemistry being referenced to a study that really doesn't apply to the statement, or quotes taken out of context of the referenced article. This alone fails to inspire my faith in this product.

When you add all these concerns to the absence of specific research on Ambrotose® and Down syndrome, I cannot recommend any child with DS receiving this product.

And to any Mannatech Associates or users who feel the need to email me about how little I know about the science, please read this article first: A 'Glyconutrient Sham.' Schnaar, Freeze. Glycobiology, 18(9):652-657, 2008.

Addendum: In 2007, the State of Texas filed suit against Mannatech, Inc., charging that the company is operating an illegal marketing scheme. The suit alleged that the company encouraged false statements made by salespeople that claimed Mannatech products could cure cancer and other serious illnesses. It claimed that the company violates the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Texas Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. In Feb. 2009, Mannatech agreed to settle the lawsuit by paying a fine of 6 million dollars and enforce rules against salespeople making such claims. Additionally, Sam Caster, the company’s founder, former CEO and biggest shareholder, agreed to pay a 1 million dollar civil penalty. (WSJ, 2/27/09)

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