Have you heard of beta glucans? The mystery behind this immune boosting carbohydrate gets revealed in this comprehensive review.
The immune system is how the body defends itself against infectious micro-organisms like bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. This defence works in two ways–the first is by making sure these harmful micro-organisms don’t make it into the body, and if they do manage to invade the body, the second is by destroying them.
Having frequent colds, allergies, upper respiratory tract infections, and food poisoning are all signs that your body doesn’t have good immunity, and there are many things that can cause this. Poor diet, normal aging1, exposure to pollution and even just stress can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to diseases and infections. Also, living with some chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer can lead to having a perpetually compromised immune system.
The question then is, how can your immune system be ramped-up? A great way is by supplementing your diet with beta glucans.
What are Beta Glucans?
Found naturally in oats, barley, yeast, algae and mushrooms, beta glucans are a type of carbohydrate called polysaccharides. Fortunately, while these are foods and substances that aren’t commonly and regularly eaten, glucans are available in supplement form—making access to them easier.
How Do Beta Glucans Boost Immune Function?
Beta-glucans work by stimulating the immune system2. Because they exist in the cell walls of bacteria and fungi, the body has learned to recognize and tag them as warning signs of potential infection. What then happens is, when you consume beta glucans, your immune system revs up its functions in preparation for this ‘potential infection’.
More specifically, beta glucans work on macrophages—white blood cells tasked with the job of detecting and destroying bacteria, dead cells as well as other harmful organisms in the body. These macrophages circulate almost everywhere in the body, patrolling and looking for disease-causing organisms (pathogens) to destroy. Not only do they eliminate these harmful organisms, but by releasing cytokines, macrophages also alert and trigger other immune system cells to act and stop the spread of the infection.
So, when beta glucans enter your body, (specifically the gastrointestinal tract) they trigger macrophages into action, which in turn activate the other mechanisms of your immune system—causing your immune system to function efficiently. In the simplest of terms, Beta-glucans basically act as a trigger warning to your body, making your immune system spring into action and carry out its usual activities.
Beta glucans also regenerate your immune system. All your immune system cells originate from stem cells in the bone marrow, and beta-glucans stimulate the production of more of these stem cells3, leading to the presence of more infection-fighting cells in your body. So, beta glucans don’t just activate your immune system, they make its responses faster, more efficient and overall, just better.4
Beta Glucans Can Help in the Fight Against Cancer Too
When you undergo cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, your immune system becomes compromised, leaving your body more vulnerable to attack from infections than usual. Beta-glucans have been used for years, as adjuvant therapy, to help to naturally stimulate and strengthen the immune system during this treatment period5,6.
Some Beta Glucans Are Better than Others
It’s important to note that not all beta glucans are created equally. The structure of the beta glucans plays a huge role in how effective it is at boosting immunity. Many studies have shown and confirmed that 1,3 and 1,6 structured beta glucans are the most effective at eliciting a modulatory reaction from the immune system.
Particularly, yeast beta glucans in the 1,3;1,6 structures, like the Norwegian Beta Glucan, have been shown to have exceptionally strong modulatory effects on the immune system —making them perfect for the purpose of improving immunity.
How Safe and Effective Are Norwegian Beta Glucan Supplements?
Studies show that it’s safe to take beta glucans orally, and for the purposes of boosting immunity, taking them in supplement pill form is just as effective as having it injected into your bloodstream. Further, during the complex extraction and purification process of Norwegian beta glucans from the cell walls of baker’s yeast, other components and impurities like minerals, proteins and nucleic that can interfere with your body’s ability to recognize beta glucans are removed.
Beta glucans are great at improving your immune system function but that’s not all they do. They also help control cholesterol levels , manage diabetes and promote wound healing10 too.
When it comes to having a strong immune system, it’s common knowledge that eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly are all key. And while there’s no one single magic ingredient to staying healthy, adding Norwegian Beta Glucan supplements to your daily diet can certainly strengthen your body’s immune system—protecting you against infection11 and diseases.
**If you have an auto-immune condition like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or multiple sclerosis, you should consult with your physician before taking Norwegian Beta Glucan supplements.
- Havard Health Publishing. How To Boost Your Immune System. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system
- Volman, J. J., Ramakers, J. D., Plat J. (2008). Dietary modulation of immune function by β-glucans.
- Kougias P., Wei D., Rice P. J., Ensley H. E., Kalbfl eisch , J. H., Williams D. L., Browder I. W. (2001). Normal human fi broblasts express pattern recognition receptors for fungal (1→3)-β-Dglucans.
- (Hunter K. W., Gault R. A., Berner M. D. (2002). Preparation of microparticulate β-glucan from Saccharomyces cerevisiae for use in immune potentiation. Lett Appl Microbiol 35: 267-271;
Jordan F. M, Hunter K. W., R. Gault R. (2002). Method for preparing small particle size glucan in a dry material.
- Morikawa K., Takeda R., Yamazaki M., Mizuno D. (1985). Induction of tumoricidal activity of polymorphonuclear leukocytes by a linear β-1,3-D-glucan and other immunomodulators in murine cells.
- Oliveira R. J., Matuo R., Silva A. F., Matiazi H. J., Mantovani M. S., Ribeiro L. R. (2006). Protective effect of β-glucan extracted from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, against DNA damage and cytotoxicity in wild-type (k1) and repair-deficient (xrs5) CHO cells.
- DiLuzio N. R. (1983). Immunopharmacology of glucan: a broad spectrum enhancer of host defence mechanisms.
- Vetvicka V, Dvorak B., Vetvickova J., Richter J., Krizan J., Sima P., Yvin J.C. (2007). Orally administered marine (1→3)-β-D-glucan phycarine stimulates both humoral and cellular immunity.
- Nicolosi R., Bell S. J., Bistrian B. R., Greenberg I., Forse R. A., Blackburn G. L. (1999). Plasma lipid changes after supplementations with β-glucan fiber from yeast.
- Browder W., Williams D., Pretus H., Olivero G., Enrichens F., Mao P., Franshello A. (1990). Beneficial effect of enhanced macrophage function in trauma patients.
- Kernodle et al., 1998; Dellinger et al., 1999