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What are mucopolysaccharides? If you look up the term, you're liable to come upon many health supplement purveyors framing them as near-miracle health enhancers which you simply must buy. But then again, such sellers make the same claims for most anything they can sell. Described in one source as "unbranched polysaccharides consisting of a repeating disaccharide unit" and in another as lengthy "carbohydrate chains of sulfated amino sugars," these are essentially simply long, stringlike sugar molecules. They do serve a number of functions, mostly useful in the exhibition of socially unacceptable behavior. For example, they can especially be found in mucus, with its myriad offensive possibilities. And, more importantly, they put the kick in those capsules of fluid around the joints which can be popped to create that knuckle-cracking sound loathed by so many dear aunts and other masters of etiquette. Glycosaminoglycan is one.

A website at mucopolysaccharides.org -- a feel-good advertisey affair -- extolls myriad virtues accorded to these molecules, from improved circulation to staving off aging. But, sadly, it fails to mention improved loogie-hocking and joint popping properties. Unsurprisingly, the website is one of many to suggest a particular vendor from whom to acquire mucopolysaccharide-rich "Green Lipped Mussels." The website fails as well to mention that certain conditions exist which prevent the person afflicted from generating enzymes able to properly break down these mucopolysaccharides, such deficiency resulting in a condition known as -- take a deep breath, now -- mucopolysaccharidoses.


FOR SCIENCE!! (ScienceQuest 2012)

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