The primary function of the immune system is to protect the body against infections by pathogenic viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. It also plays a key role in removing dead body cells and repairing damage caused by strong light, irradiation and environmental toxins. Occasionally, the immune system may over-react or be brought out of balance.
Such imbalances can result in immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, certain types of asthma, and other fairly common health conditions. The immune response can also be suppressed, resulting in reduced overall resistance to infections and impaired ability to counter development of cancer. Thus, a properly functioning immune system is a prerequisite for good health.
Beta-1,3/1,6-glucans are naturally occurring polysaccharides found in the cell walls of fungi and yeast but alien to the animal kingdom. Throughout evolution, the immune system has “learned” to recognize its molecular structure as a reliable warning of infection. In purified form, beta-1,3/1,6-glucan functions as a signal that alerts the immune system and prepares it to respond quickly and adequately to infections. However, beta-1,3/1,6-glucan is more than a potent immune-stimulant that renders animals and humans more resistant to any infectious organism.
Beta-1,3/1,6-glucans have remarkable effects on a range of other conditions. This nontoxic, non-allergenic and non-immunogenic molecule enhances wound healing and repairs damage caused by strong light or irradiation. It also supports anti-cancer mechanisms in the body and has a beneficial effect on the overall health condition.
The multitude of effects of beta-1,3/1,6-glucan can be explained with reference to its very basic mode of action on the immune system. Beta-1,3/1,6-glucans interact with specific receptors on macrophages, dendritic cells, natural killer cells and granulocytes. These white blood cells are present everywhere in the body. In mucous surfaces and underlying mesenchyme tissues, they constitute a powerful defensive force that arrests and destroys infectious microbes at their port of entry into the body.
The interaction between beta-1,3/1,6-glucan and its specific receptors on immune cells in epithelia and superficial connective tissues corresponds to an initial event in a natural infection process and places these cells on highest alert to counter any subsequent infection.
White blood cells with beta-1,3/1,6-glucan receptors constitute the backbone of the body’s innate immune system, which is the first line of defense against most infections. The same cells make up the mastermind of the entire immune system—they control and adjust the specific immune system response to infections, vaccines and allergens. The use of a beta-1,3/1,6-glucan to modulate innate immune mechanisms has therefore become a promising strategy for controlling and counteracting immune related disorders such as asthma, allergy, arthritis, and harmful inflammations. Innate immune mechanisms are important also for the body’s own ability to eliminate tumor cells. Immune therapy has recently become an attractive and realistic anti-cancer strategy.
Frequently recurring infections and colds, allergy and asthma, arthritis pain, and chronic fatigue are conditions that are related in some way to weakened immunity or inadequate immune reactions. There are many possible causes of immune deficiencies—physical or mental stress, grief, sudden change in personal life, overwork, poor diet, aging, exposure to pollutants or irradiation, and possibly insufficient exposure to microbial products that provide natural exercise for the innate immune system.
Beta-1,3/1,6-glucans are immune modulating natural products that show the greatest promise as supplements that, by acting on basic mechanisms of immunity, will help to counteract the effects of weakened immunity.
The Immune-Enhancing Benefits of Beta Glucans
When it comes to naturally boosting the immune system by optimizing its response to diseases and infections, beta glucans are “the standing army” in the fight to stay healthy. But because the body doesn’t produce beta glucans naturally, the only way to get the compound is through baker’s yeast, shiitake mushrooms, and cereal grains, like barley, oats, rye, and wheat, or daily intake of a beta-1,3/1,6-glucan supplement from baker’s yeast to help ensure that you are consuming a pure and bioactive micro-particulate product.
- J Immunotoxicol. 2008 Jan;5(1):47-57.
- J Am Coll Nutr.1997 Feb;16(1):46-5.