Care of Your Glycocalyx is Key to Your Health

December 17, 2023

Glycocalyx Barriers are Key to Your Health

Ever heard of "glycocalyx"? Nobody else has either. If you have any trouble with your gut, or have any form of heart trouble including high blood pressure, you need to pay attention. The term "endothelial dysfunction" is bandied about freely when we talk about high blood pressure and heart disease. The glycocalyx goes right through that. Healing your glycocalyx is an important function.

The human body has some unique challenges. We need to protect ourselves from an environment of many bacteria and viruses that want to invade us and damage us. We have a tough layer of dead cells on the outside that does a pretty good job of keeping invaders at bay. To take in nourishment, however, we have to let down our defenses a little. How can we let food, water, and nutrients in while keeping bacteria, parasites, and viruses out? The intestinal tract is the first line of defense. Anything that gets past the gut ends up in the blood. The blood vessel system is the second layer of defense. Both are lined with glycoproteins.

In common parlance, those glycoproteins are mucins, aka mucus you can blow out of your nose and make for much teenage mischief. In your gut, there is a rich layer of mucin-producing cells in which a huge, specialized biome of bacteria thrive and interact with us, their host. They make many vitamins, neurotransmitters, and beta-hydroxybutyrate for us to use as energy.

We are now discovering that your blood vessels, the second layer of defense, are also lined with mucins. Our arteries are not just smooth, clean pipes. They look like sea-grass surfaces. It's damage to this glycocalyx that's the first step in coronary artery disease. Aha, the disease that kills half of us is not driven by cholesterol. That shows up later once the endothelial cell, the lining cell of the artery, pulls back, exposing openings in the barrier for oxidized, damaged LDLs to slip in. They pool their contents to make cholesterol plaque. Taking a statin doesn't help the glycocalyx.

There is also the hypothesis that our vascular tree runs more on electrical forces than just simple blood pumping. The glycocalyx is negatively charged, as are the outer walls of red cells and white cells. They repel each other, allowing swirling blood to be electrically propelled. The book, Human Heart, Cosmic Heart by Cowan is a great read and lays out this hypothesis. I believe it. It gives absolute importance to a healthy glycocalyx.

The race is on to find means of repairing the glycocalyx. Vitamin D has been shown to play a role. DHA from fish oil shows effects. Berberine appears to help. The Mediterranean Diet also shows effects. Just what is that specifically does it? Certainly, Nitric Oxide plays a major role and its induction or replacement may be key. Any time any of these topics is published in the medical literature, there are multiple companies making supplements that promise to save your arteries. Just type in "supplements to repair glycocalyx" to any search engine and you will see a raft of them.

Perhaps the most intriguing compound for glycocalyx repair is called diosmin. That too is now on the supplement market.

This is where we are going to preserve and save you from heart disease.

www.What will Work for me? Well, Nitric Oxide is now widely available, for a price. Considering that you lose 12% per decade, anyone over age 60 might consider some strategy to increase their NO. If nothing else, stop using mouthwash or omeprazole as both dramatically reduce your NO production. And eat 5 servings of vegetables every day. Sugar and saturated fats damage your glycocalyx barriers. That may be where the whole story starts with those two egregious toxins. Too bad we like them so much.

References: FASEB, Annual Rev Biochem, Glycobiology, ResearchGate, Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, Nutrients, BioPhys Journal, Human Heart, Cosmic Heart,

Pop Quiz

1. What is the glycocalyx barrier?                   Answer: The complex, mucusy layer of sugar molecules added onto the surface proteins on the innermost lining of your gut and your arteries.

2. What role do they play?              Answer: In your gut they make a home for healthy bacteria that have an interplay with our gut cells, keeping the bad guys out.

3. Can I measure the loss of my own glycocalyx?                     Answer. Not really, yet. If you have high blood pressure, you likely have "endothelial dysfunction," another term for damaged glycocalyx.

4. I thought it was cholesterol that got my arteries in trouble. What am I missing?                    Answer: You are late for the football game. Cholesterol shows up down the road when a damaged artery, stripped of its glycocalyx, pulls back its cells making openings onto which oxidized, small, dense LDLs can stick and carry cholesterol into the artery wall. Lowering cholesterol with a statin doesn't repair that. Fixing the glycocalyx does. Cholesterol is like the crowd at the football game. It makes a lot of noise but isn't the cause of the initial disease. It is the cause of the heart attack when the plaque ruptures and plugs up an artery. (Don't get me wrong.  There is clear evidence that lowering cholesterol LDLs in folks reduces heart attacks.  It's just not the primary cause.)

5. How can I repair my glycocalyx?                            Answer: Oooh, the million-dollar question. There is a race going on right now. Hundreds of labs or studying this. Wait and see what emerges. Diosmin? Make sure you take your Vitamin D and fish oil every day.