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Beta-glucans and the immune system

3 min read

Beta-Glucans are crucial weapons in the fight to stay healthy and naturally boost the immune system. The body doesn't produce Beta-Glucans. so the only way to get them into the body is by consuming them. 

Beta-Glucans (β-Glucans) are forms of polysaccharides found inside the cell wall of bacteria (such as yeast) and fungi/mushrooms. The history of Beta-Glucans usage and their benefits goes back thousands of years, in Eastern countries, for instance, mushrooms have long being used for their healing and immuno-stimulating properties. Scientific studies have shown that the Beta-1,3-(D)-Glucan with Beta- 1,6-glucan linkage extracted from yeast (scientific name saccharomyces cerevisiae) has been shown to act as a potent immune system activator.

Beta-Glucans increase immune defence

The ability of the immune system to quickly recognise and respond to an invading pathogen is essential for controlling infection. Beta-Glucans work by increasing the body's host immune defence by activating complementary systems and enhancing cells' natural killer functions. In short they trigger a cascade of events that help regulate the immune system, making it more efficient. As we stated above, the only way to do this is via a supplementary dietary source.

Know your quality and take the correct type

Beta-Glucans come in two forms which are not equal in their benefits:

  1. Beta-1,3/1,6 -  yeast derived beta glucan
  2. Beta-1,4 - oat and barley derived glucan

Yeast derived Beta-Glucans (1,3 and 1,6) is the formula you should look for.  We recommend you avoid buying from anyone who appears to be unaware of the differences and ensure that the benefits of Beta-1,3/1,6 are not being passed off against a product containing Beta-1,4. So be careful - if the product doesn't specify (1-3),(1-6) then it wont be!

Ensure you take the correct dose

It is always important to remember that the quality of your supplement is paramount, particularly so in the case of Beta-glucans.

Current science has demonstrated that a smaller dose of a properly processed, high quality Beta-glucan 1,3/1,6 extracted from yeast can be more effective than a stronger dose of lower quality product. It is common to see dosages as high as 800mg on the market but studies have found that the potential health gains diminish exponentially the higher the dosage.  

So do ensure that you are buying a high quality supplement with a high linkage/activity level rather than a product that simply has a dose high in mg.

Benefits of Beta-Glucans are backed by Scientific Research

There are a wealth of scientific studies backing the immuno benefits of Beta-Glucans. A scientific study published in the Journal of Hematology & Oncology studied their effects on the body and found that β-glucans are potent modulators of our immune systems.  This study includes more detail on how the immune boosting reaction occurs. When ingested the body recognises β-glucans found in the bacterial or fungal cell wall, β-glucans are absent in human cells so once inside the body they are treated as 'alien cells' thereby triggering an effective immune responses. This includes phagocytosis (living cells called phagocytes ingest or engulf other cells or particles) and pro-inflammatory factors are produced, leading to the elimination of infectious agents.

Most recently in 2014 a scientific study stated "The results of all studies taken together clearly indicate that oral intake of insoluble yeast beta-glucans is safe and has an immune strengthening effect."

Through scientific research it has been found that antibodies working against saccharomyces cerevisiae have been found in 60–70% of patients with Crohn's disease and 10–15% of patients with ulcerative colitis - both are immune related diseases. Studies into this link is ongoing and the pathogenic importance remains to be established.

Further reading

Other resources you may be interested in:

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.