Galactose is one of the 8 saccharides known as Glyconutrients. They are vital nutrients to the body and are:
• Fucose (not fructose)
• N-acetylneuraminic acid
Galactose is found in sugar beets and dairy products. It is sugar and is also known as brain sugar. Because it has food energy it is known as a nutritive sweetener. It is not very water-soluble and is less sweet than glucose. When joined with glucose it forms the disaccharide known as lactose found in milk. Alone galactose is known as a monosaccharide.
Galactose is a vital nutrient in our body and deficiencies can cause serious metabolic disorders:
• Mental retardation
• A rare deficiency UDP-galactose-4-epimerase deficiency can cause nerve deafness
• Galactose-1-phosphate uridyl transferase deficiency
• Compulsive blinking disorder.
Galactose is found in a number of natural products combined with other sugars, the most notable being lactose (a combination of galactose and glucose). It is the galactose in lactose that causes an inability to digest dairy products known as lactose intolerance. It is also found in polysaccharides, carbohydrates, and lipids. Lipids are found in the nerve tissue and the brain. Galactose is used in medicines and synthetic substances.
A rare hereditary disease is known as Galactosemia can be found in infants. It occurs when there is too much Galactose in the body. This is caused by a liver enzyme deficiency. It is very important to diagnose this metabolic disorder early so that life long problems do not occur. This is a hereditary disease. It can only occur if one or both parents have this disorder. The disease will become apparent in the 1st days of life when the infant starts taking milk or formula.
Jaundice, liver enlargement and vomiting are the usual signs of Galactosemia. However, it can be further complicated by other infections. Blood tests will usually confirm the diagnosis. If left untreated the disease can get serious and lead to kidney, liver, eye, and brain damage.
The treatment is a galactose-free diet. This is a long-term treatment and may have to be maintained for years and sometimes the whole of the person’s life. As an added precaution Expectant Mothers who are known to be at risk for this disease can also be placed on a galactose-free diet during pregnancy. If diagnosed and treated early in life with an infant any liver damage will automatically heal up however if left untreated there can be irreversible damage. All jaundiced babies should be tested for Galactosemia. Galactose is also used for research into eye diseases.
Consumption of yogurt and cottage cheese will produce more Galactose as the lactose in these 2 substances is easily broken down into the monosaccharide forms of glucose and galactose. Galactose can also be found in pectin, which can be obtained from fruits especially strawberries, and citrus fruits.