N-Glycolylneuraminic acid, abbreviated Neu5Gc, is a monosaccharide containing 9 carbon atoms that can be found in mammalian tissues. Humans do not synthesize Neu5Gc, as it is assumed that the gene responsible for the synthesis mutated 2-3 millions wears ago. Primates, man’s closest relatives, as well as other mammalians retained this gene and produce N-glycolylneuraminic acid.
Neu5Gc is very similar to the well-known N-acetylneuraminic acid, abbreviated Neu5Ac. The human cell uses this molecule for the production of complex sugars or glycoconjugates (sugars attached to a non sugar molecules) and their main function is in cell communication.
Although man can not produce N-glycolylneuraminic acid, this molecule is present in the human body and comes from diet. Major sources are lamb, pork and beef, and to a lesser extent milk and dairy products. This monosaccharides are not present in poultry and fish.
Neu5Gc is found in cancer cells and fetal tumors. Human immune system recognizes it as a foreign molecule, and elevated levels of antibodies cause chronic inflammation. Epidemiological studies have shown a link between consumption of red meat and the increased risk of many diseases, including cancer, atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes. It has not been proved, but it is possible that Neu5Gc from the diet exacerbates all the mentioned diseases.
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