Alkylglycerols have been in use in northern Europe for more than 50 years to assist with the prevention and treatment of cancer. They are also in widespread European use to help the immune system function more efficiently to combat infection and respiratory ailments such as asthma. New science is extending the use of this novel nutrient into the realm of anti-aging, especially for immune cells and the cardiovascular system. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and can contribute to cell membrane function in ways that help cells regulate health more efficiently – the opposite of the trend of aging.
Immune system research on alkylglycerols continues to be a main focus. For example, an Italian study used 100 mg of alkylglycerols twice a day at the peak of the 2009-2010 flu season with 52 participants. A control group of 60 related family members did not receive any alkylglycerols. All participants had the traditional flu vaccine. In the alkylglycerol group, 42 of 52 (81 percent) had no flu symptoms during the flu season, while the other 10 had mild flu symptoms that cleared within two to three days and required no drug treatment. In the control group only 20 of 60 (33 percent) had no flu symptoms; the rest got the flu with varying severity.
This article explains the history of alkylglycerols as well as the nature of the discoveries by modern science research.
Shark Liver Oil as a Folk Remedy
Modern day alkylglycerols are extracted from shark liver oil. Shark liver oil was used for hundreds of years along the coastal areas of Norway and Sweden. Its folk medicine use centered on wound healing, respiratory tract ailments, digestive problems, significant swelling in the lymphatic system (such as swollen lymph nodes), and as an anti-frailty remedy (general rejuvenation).
While shark liver oil contains more nutrients than just the alkylglycerols, modern science provides insights on how alkylglycerols helped with these traditional medicinal uses.
Alkylglycerols are Natural in the Human Body
The highest concentration of alkylglycerols in the human body is in bone marrow (0.2 percent) and spleen (.05 percent). They are naturally found in breast milk (0.1 percent). Your liver can synthesize alkylglycerols and cell membranes accumulate small amounts of them.
Bone marrow is the birthplace of immune cells, red blood cells, and platelets. It is well established that alkylglycerols boost the production of all three of these cells types, providing nourishment to the bone marrow. This is one of the mechanisms of support for cancer treatment, which tends to suppress all three of these important cell types.
The spleen is part of the immune system, especially assisting with anti-bacterial duties. Accumulation of alkylglycerols in the spleen implies importance as part of an immune support team.
The fact that alkylglycerols are part of breast milk means they are likely to support immune function and/or nourish the bone marrow derived cells that are needed to facilitate rapid growth in babies. An animal study has shown that supplementing the mother with alkylglycerols boosts the antibody status in her baby, increasing both IgG and IgM antibody levels during nursing. This study provides a theoretical basis for a lactating mother to use supplemental alkylglycerols to boost the immune support quality of her milk.
What Are Alkylglycerols?
Alkylglycerols are a type of lipid. Lipids are fatty in nature. We sometimes use the terms “lipid” and “fat” as synonyms. But actual fat (triglycerides) is just another type of lipid, and so it is not accurate to say that a lipid is always a fat. Lipids do many things in your body; they build cell membranes and perform cell signaling. All of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are different kinds of lipids. Alkylglycerols are a fatty-like lipid nutrient.
The carbons and hydrogens that make up the fattiness of alkylglycerols are in a long chain called a hydrocarbon that is uniquely bonded together by single-bonded oxygen (ether bonds), as opposed to double-bonded oxygen (ester bonds) that typically hold triglycerides together. It is these ether bonds that make alkylglycerols uniquely active as a type of fatty substance.
Similar to fatty acids, there can be different lengths of alkylglycerols based on how many carbons form their “spine.” These can range in length from 14 to 24 carbons. Different length alkylglycerols do different things in your body. At the end of the carbon spine is an alkyl group, a molecular end cap, which is like the plastic tip on the end of a shoelace. Biological activity is based on the length of the carbon spine and the unique oxygen bonding system of the nutrient.
Unlike the alcohol you drink, alkylglycerols are basically functional alcohols of different lengths. Chimyl alcohol, batyl alcohol, and selachyl alcohol are all different types of naturally occurring alkylglycerols. Each of these behaves differently in metabolism, meaning that alkylglycerols have multiple different functions.
The basic point to understand is that alkylglycerols are a unique fatty nutrient with a wide variety of activities in your body. While they were first understood in a context of immune support, they are now moving into a broader context of basic cell nourishment for health. They easily become part of cell membranes and participate in cell signaling. The new science is beginning to explain their diverse functions to support health.
Early Cancer Research
In 1952 a Swedish doctor, Astrid Brohult, observed that feeding bone marrow extracts from fresh calf bones to children with leukemia tended to raise their white blood counts. Her biochemist husband spent years trying to figure out the active compound, which he discovered to be alkylglycerols. They brought their discovery to a pharmaceutical company, who had trouble extracting enough alkylglycerols from bone marrow for commercial use. This company’s researchers figured out that the best source of alkylglycerols was the Greenland shark, whose liver oil contains up to 50 percent alkylglycerols. By the late 1950s Astrid Brohult was giving alkylglycerols to patients in an oncology setting.
In the 1970s, the Brohults published a series of studies based on their use of alkylglycerols in patients with invasive cancer of the uterine cervix who received radiation therapy. While the studies are retrospective in nature, and the authors are linked to the development of a commercial product, the initial information gleaned from these early pioneering efforts shows a high level of efficacy in combating cancer and making cancer treatment less toxic.
Data from almost 3,000 patients was divided into those who took alkylglycerols for a week prior to radiation treatment, and those who started alkylglycerols with radiation treatment. These were compared to other patients who had no alkylglycerols. The typical dose used was 200 mg of alkylglycerols three times per day, continued for one to three months after treatment had concluded. Due to the varying length of treatments, some patients ended up taking a higher cumulative dose of 95 grams over time, whereas others had a lower dose of 65 grams.
The best results were in those who started alkylglycerols one week prior to radiation treatment and had the highest cumulative dose. For those who had 95 grams of total intake, their mortality after three years was 13.7 percent, compared to 19.6 percent for those in the 65 gram group. The radiation only group had a mortality rate of 29.6 percent. This data implied that alkylglycerols had begun shrinking the cancer even before treatment had started, as it was found that those on alkylglycerols prior to radiation had less advanced cancers at the time treatment was started.
Other data showed that giving alkylglycerols before and during radiation treatment reduced the injuries from radiation to 33 percent. Radiation damage to body tissue is the major limiting factor, or toxicity, of the treatment. One double-blind study showed that those without alkylglycerols had a 52.1 percent injury rate from radiation treatment and those with alkylglycerols had only a 26.3 percent injury rate. Since radiation injury is the result of extensive free radical damage, like a forest fire burning out of control, the only possible explanation for these dramatic results is that alkylglycerols have potent antioxidant activity.
A study of 100 cancer patients showed that 75 percent of them had an increased white blood count despite going through radiation treatment, 15 percent had no change, and 10 percent had a decline. Clearly, alkylglycerols were able to provide nourishment to the bone marrow to offset the significant stress of cancer treatment.
In one of the Brohults more interesting experiments they vaccinated 54 patients against salmonella the day before and the day after their first radiation treatment. Twenty-six of the patients received 100 mg of alkylglycerols three times per day for three weeks, and the others did not receive any alkylglycerols. At the end of the three weeks, immune response against salmonella was tested, just prior to their second round of radiation treatment. Those who received the alkylglycerols had a better immune response, indicating that the alkylglycerols had maintained better overall immune function despite the radiation treatment. After three years, 21 patients had died. All 21 were those with the poorest immune response to the salmonella vaccination. This study suggested significant immune potentiating properties of alkylglycerols, a form of support that could make a major difference in mortality risk.
In summary, the early alkylglycerol research with cancer showed that alkylglycerols could boost white blood cell count, maintain or enhance the immune response, possibly shrink cancer prior to any medical treatment, reduce the amount of radiation damage to healthy body tissue, and extend lifespan following cancer treatment. All of this early research was extensively reviewed in 1994 and that study can be read in full by following this link.
This early research caused other researchers to become interested in studying alkylglycerols to understand how they work. It also led pharmaceutical companies to make synthetic alkylglycerols of various types, trying to find the one with the most anti-cancer potential. A number of companies also began to produce natural alkylglycerols from shark liver oil, which entered the consumer marketplace as dietary supplements.
Boosting Efficient Macrophage Function
A macrophage is a large immune cell typically considered to be part of the front line immune troops, because it can engulf and destroy invading infections. It is also considered a major garbage cleaning cell, because it can ingest toxic trash and general debris, and then digest it to harmless compounds. This is especially important within the lymphatic system to keep plumbing systems flowing properly. In recent years its diverse modes of operation, in both health and disease, have shown that macrophages function in an exceptionally complex manner to perform all manner of useful tasks.
Notably, efficient function of macrophages is just as important as how many macrophages you have. For example, properly energized macrophages are a key line of defense against infection and cancer. On the other hand, poorly functioning macrophages contribute to the inflammatory diseases of aging, including obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Furthermore, as new red and white blood cells are born in the bone marrow, these baby cells can become a variety of different adult cells depending on the state of health of the person. If bone marrow is in good shape then a number of monocytes (baby white blood cells) will become efficient macrophages, whereas too much inflammation in the bone marrow can cause monocytes to become osteoclasts, which cause too much bone loss. If only Lance Armstrong had known about alkylglycerols, he may not have needed to cheat to boost his red blood count to offset the demands of exhausting exercise. Bone marrow health is a fundamental anti-aging issue.
Numerous studies now show that alkylglycerols directly boost the activity of macrophages to kill germs more efficiently. Alkylglycerols also help the immune system function more appropriately, tilting macrophage behavior away from the excessive inflammatory type that contributes to allergy, asthma, and the diseases of aging (excessive T helper 2 response) and making it better at implementing the infection-fighting and anti-cancer response (a better T helper 1 response). Furthermore, higher doses of alkylglycerols help macrophages participate in a cancer killing mechanism, which enable the macrophages to bind to antibodies on the surface of cancer cells, engulfing and destroying them.
It is important to understand that the efficiency of macrophages declines with age. This means there can be many macrophages that are unable to perform defensive duties properly. An analogy is your favorite NFL team fielding a defense of 70-year-olds to go up against a much younger offense. The old defense would constantly get penalties for too many men on the field, with possibly hundreds of inefficient defenders still unable to stop a swiftly moving running back (infection). Indeed, the abdominal bloating of aging may include several pounds of inefficient immune cells in the lymphatic system that lines the digestive tract – with a general tendency to just be in the way. Alkylglycerols have been shown to specifically boost efficient immune system function in the digestive tract.
Cancer Cell Signaling
Cancer is famous for hijacking biological processes and using them for its own advantage. Human physiology has developed many strategies to use nutrition to help combat this problem. This often means that healthy cells can use a nutrient to enhance health while the very same nutrient can help kill cancer. This is a common mechanism with many nutrients such as tocotrienol E, quercetin, curcumin, green tea, DHA, and many others.
We now know that alkylglycerols can readily accumulate in cell membranes, naturally binding to the lipids that comprise the cell membrane. Human cells can use alkylglycerols for healthy purposes, including cell signaling and antioxidant defense. Cancer cells seem to have real trouble with alkylglycerols.
Alkylglycerols interfere with the cancer’s hijacking of an important enzyme system that drives cancer growth called protein kinase C. As alkylglycerols accumulate in cell membranes of cancer cells they turn off the ability of cancer to use protein kinase C to fuel rapid cell division, which is needed for cancer to progress. Furthermore, cancer cells do not appear able to metabolize the accumulation of alkylglycerols in their membranes, resulting in a disruption of the integrity of the cancer cell, making it more susceptible to anything that could kill it (including traditional cancer treatment).
In healthy cells alkylglycerols contribute to cellular health and the integrity of the cell membrane. In cancer cells it is an entirely different reaction. In terms of the fatty composition of your cell membranes, you are what you eat. It makes sense to have some alkylglycerols on board, as part of an overall healthy nutrition team, for general health purposes.
The Expanding View of Alkylglycerols
Science is showing that alkylglycerols incorporate themselves in cell membrane phospholipids, enhancing cell membrane fluidity and improving antioxidant status – two issues with significant anti-aging properties.
Incorporation of alkylglycerols has the general effect of stabilizing cell signaling and protecting cell membranes, especially under conditions of stress. Alkylglycerols have been shown to induce and sustain the production of platelet-activating factor (PAF), an important signal in sperm physiology and vitality. Supplemental alkylglycerols have been shown to increase sperm motility and velocity.
While supporting healthy cell structure alkylglycerols continue to demonstrate potent anti-cancer cell proliferation, including direct toxic effects to cancer cells and tumor shrinkage. These results have been shown in human breast and prostate cancer cell and animal studies.
Plasmalogens are one type of cell membrane phospholipid. These are present in the liver, brain, skin, retina, kidneys and especially the heart (more than 25 percent of heart phospholipids are plasmalogens). Plasmalogens play a critical role in cell signaling, especially the ability to withstand stressful conditions (such as a heart attack). Alkylglycerols are a form of nourishment to help make plasmalogens. Supplemental alkylglycerols significantly reduced the tissue damage in an animal model of experimentally induced heart attack by raising plasmalogen levels of the heart.
Alkylglycerols increased plasmalogens in the endothelial cells lining the circulatory system, showing increased tolerance for free radical problems, helping create an environment of less inflammation. This is a general mechanism favoring reduced cardiovascular stress and theoretically implies less risk for cardiovascular disease. It is quite clear that alkylglycerols help the cardiovascular system neutralize a variety of free radicals that can otherwise be problematic.
The ability of the fatty acid monolaurin to combat bacterial and fungal infections is well established. Unfortunately, monolaurin is degraded and cleared fairly rapidly, which limits its effectiveness. Alkylglycerols help make a similar compound called DDG (dodecyglycerol), with ether bonds instead of the ester bonds. In this form the DDG maintains longer periods of germicidal activity, making it more potent than monolaurin. Studies show wide-ranging antibacterial and antifungal activity of DDG.
A rat study with alkylglycerols found that found that batyl alcohol or selachyl alcohol forms were more effective than aspirin and equally effective as hydrocortisone at reducing pain – demonstrating significant anti-inflammatory properties.
An extensive 2010 review providing explanation and documentation for the diverse biological actions of alkylglycerols can be read in full by following this link. A second review in the same journal provides the perspective of an additional group of researchers on the multiple health benefits of alkylglycerols.
Alkylglycerol research over the past 50 years has moved from immune support and anti-cancer use to broad general health. While the immune support properties of alkylglycerols remain important, they have progressed to more common uses involved with combating common infections including the flu as well as allergy and asthma.
The noteworthy ability of alkylglycerols to help reduce free radical distress and lower inflammation, while helping cells maintain health under duress, is of common use as a general anti-aging function. Research also indicates protective benefits for the cardiovascular system, significantly expanding the potential usefulness of this important nutrient.
A basic nutritional dose of alkylglycerols for general health is 50mg – 100 mg, one to three times per day. A dose of 200 mg, three times per day, is the highest dose tested in humans for significant support in times of need.