Nutrition Notes

Botanicals to Support the Endothelial Glycocalyx and Vascular Health

Emerging research has been exploring the relationship between vascular health, certain botanicals, and the endothelial glycocalyx (EGX). The EGX is the first line of defense in the vessel walls. It is a thin gel-like layer that lines the endothelium — the layer of vessel walls that separates the tissue from the circulating blood. Every artery, vein, and capillary is lined with the EGX, which consists of a mesh of glycoproteins, proteoglycans, glycosaminoglycans, and plasma proteins.

The EGX helps regulate vascular wall health through its ability to control the filtration of circulating substances, including low-density lipoproteins (LDL) to the endothelium. It can also help harbor enzymes such as superoxide dismutase that support antioxidant status to help protect the endothelium from oxidative damage. The EGX also acts as a regulator of the interactions between blood cells and vascular endothelial cells, and it supports signaling for nitric oxide synthesis.

Damage to the EGX has been associated in research with aging, smoking, inflammation, and poor diet. During the process of damage, binding sites in the EGX can become exposed, which may lead to increased adhesion to vascular walls and subsequent arterial plaque development and remodeling. 

Certain botanicals may help support the full function and restoration of the EGX. Rhamnan sulfate (RS) is a polysaccharide extracted from a unique green seaweed, Monostroma nitidum. RS is a heteropolysaccharide with L‑rhamnose that may be covalently bonded to sulfate providing the primary repeating monosaccharides on both the linear and branched chains that occur in the EGX. RS has been studied extensively for its potential to support cardiovascular health. In human and animal studies, RS has demonstrated beneficial effects on hypercholesterolemia, hyperglycemia, hypertension, and inflammation. Daily RS supplementation for 6 weeks was shown in a clinical study to significantly reduce total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in borderline or mild hypercholesterolemia patients.

Polyphenols, such as resveratrol, quercetin, and catechins (found in plants, such as grape skins, onions, and green tea, respectively), are well‑known for their ability to help protect cells from free radical damage and activate pathways that support a healthy inflammatory response. These polyphenolic compounds may help support antioxidant activities that may in turn help inhibit the degradation of the EGX. This is believed to occur through the regulation of reactive oxygen species and certain enzymes.

The EGX is a critical component of vascular functioning. Research suggests that certain botanicals may help support EGX integrity, vascular health, and healthy aging. 

By Caitlin Higgins, MS, CNS and Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT