Beta Glucans and its role in Immunity

This article has been researched and written by Allbeing's in-house writers.

After reading this article, you will become aware of the following:

- The variety within the Beta-Glucan family. - The paramount significance of Beta-Glucan in the path of staying healthy. - Who all might be in a dire need of Beta-Glucan? - How to get your hands on Beta-glucan? Intrigued enough? Let’s skip the chit-chat and get down to the nitty gritty.

1. Fiber, so what's the need for it?

Fiber helps your body in reducing cholesterol and controlling blood sugar levels. It also aids with constipation and bowel issues, maintains healthy gut bacteria, and keeps the body weight in check.

We get our dietary fiber from the plant-based foods we consume. Soluble fibers, like beta-glucan, dissolve partially in the water. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve at all. Most foods have both kinds of fiber, but the amounts can vary. There are also different kinds of soluble and insoluble fiber.

2. Beta-Glucan: The Green Beret of Nutrition

This natural substance is found in baker’s yeast, is a soluble fiber found naturally in cereal grains, yeast, and certain mushrooms, and also sold as a supplement. As a soluble fiber, beta-glucan itself is not digested, however, it slows food transit in the intestines. As a result, carbohydrates are absorbed slower, resulting in more steady blood sugar. In addition, it moves slowly through the digestive tract, taking cholesterol with it.

Beta-glucan is a complex carbohydrate fiber otherwise known as a polysaccharide, that can be a real hero in your body’s combat against all kinds of health enemies.

Every day, we encounter billions of germs, but they’re not all bad.

3. How long has Beta-Glucan been around?

Beta-glucan has been studied extensively over the last twenty-plus years, with evidence suggesting that ancient tribes used them several thousand years ago for medicinal purposes; so its benefits have withstood the test of time.

It has played a prominent role in the mornings of many Americans, but just like Clark Kent is Superman, they didn’t know it. Unknowingly to most, beta-glucan is the most consumed of all soluble fibers.

4. Various types of Beta-Glucan

Not all Beta Glucans are the same. There are many subtle, but important differences in structure within the Beta Glucan family that lead to large differences in function and potential health benefits.

The specific source organism (e.g., the strain of yeast) of a particular beta-glucan makes all the difference in terms of safety, mechanism of action, and efficacy. That’s because each type of beta-glucan, molecularly speaking, has a different backbone and branching arrangement that can give it health benefits that are completely different from other types.

Mushroom and yeast-based beta-glucan(s) are the most common. Oats Beta-glucan is becoming more popular to treat high cholesterol but has very little Active Linkage in it. Yeast Based Beta Glucan has much more Active Linkage than Mushroom Beta Glucan.

5. Yeast Beta Glucans: Why are they important?

Baker’s yeast beta-glucan is considered the most efficient beta-glucan when it comes to immune modulation. Beta-Glucans extracted from the cell walls of baker’s yeast have a different molecular pattern from that of brewer’s yeast, which can influence the immune-modulating abilities of the final product. Not all yeast beta-glucans are created equal. Beta-glucans from different sources have very different build-ups. One of the most common sources of β(1,3)D-glucan for supplement use is derived from the cell wall of baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae).

β-glucans found in the cell walls of yeast contain a 1,3 carbon backbone with elongated 1,6 carbon branches, the only beta-glucans with immune-stimulating potential. Yeast-based beta-glucan contains a higher percentage of Active 1,3/1,6 Linkage than mushroom-based beta-glucans. Mushroom-based contains about 8 to 15% Active Linkage, yeast-based ranges from about 60 to 90%.

6. Cereal Beta Glucans

Certain beta-glucans derived from cereal grains (beta 1,3 and beta 1,4 glucan), predominantly oats, have been found useful for managing cholesterol levels

One study found that 6 grams/day of oat beta-glucan lowered total and LDL cholesterol levels in subjects with elevated cholesterol by 9 percent after four weeks. Another study  found that using beta-glucans derived from barley rather than oats had no real effect on cholesterol, though a high molecular weight–concentrated barley beta-glucan was beneficial in helping some of the study’s 90 subjects lose weight.

So, while beta-glucans from oats have not been shown to provide immune health benefits, studies have confirmed that certain oat beta-glucans can help lower cholesterol levels and provide heart health benefits. It is important to note that the degree of cholesterol reduction depends upon the particular strain of beta-glucan.

7. Mushroom Beta Glucans

Beta-glucans are found in the fungal cell walls. One study tested beta-glucans derived from the common edible oyster mushroom with 175 children between the ages of 3 and 7. In taking 120 ml/day of a mushroom beta-glucan syrup for a year, 36 percent of the children did not suffer any URTIs over the six months of the treatment period, compared to 21 percent in the control group.

Ultimately, although mushroom beta-glucans have been shown to have immune health benefits, research shows that their potency is lower than that of certain well-studied baker’s yeast beta-glucans.

Mushrooms that are rich in beta-glucan include: Shiitake, Maitake, Reishi, Turkey tail, Oyster, Splitgill, Enoki

“Just by introducing your body to good probiotic foods, you will strengthen your immune system, enjoy better digestion, get rid of candida, see a reduction in skin issues, and have higher energy levels. You are also likely to be able to lose excess weight and keep it off.” ― Amy Leigh Mercree

8. Beta-Glucan: Powerful Immune Booster

For more than a century, beta-glucan sources have been studied because of their ability to regulate the immune system. They have been shown to increase the activity of the pathogen-fighting immune cells known as macrophages.

Beta-glucans are known as biological response modifiers. This is because they activate the immune system. The immune-boosting benefit has been specifically linked to beta-glucan from yeast and medicinal mushrooms. Beta-glucans increase host immune defense by stimulating the immune system and enhancing natural killer cell function. Natural killer cells are a type of cell that plays an essential role in fighting off tumors and viruses.

9. Beat Cancer with Beta-Glucan

The mere mention of the big “C” can scare people from far off. But a specific type of beta-glucan called Lentinan has been found in numerous studies to have strong anti-cancer and tumor-suppressive properties, and its clinical application has even demonstrated a prolonging of lifespan.

Initial research suggests that beta-glucan may help to combat cancer by activating several cancer-fighting cells like natural killer cells and T-cells. Preliminary studies have found that beta-glucan may help to stop the spread of cancer.

More than its antioxidant effects, beta-glucan may be an even stronger ally against skin cancer. In lab tests, beta-glucan has shown antitumor effects, telling the body to stop the process that builds tumors.

10. Beta-Glucan: The Heart-healthy fiber

Beta-Glucan has proven effective with decreasing cholesterol by up to 10%, as well as lowering blood pressure.

There’s evidence that beta-glucan can help boost heart health by lowering cholesterol. The cholesterol-lowering benefits of beta-glucan have mainly been studied using cereal-derived beta-glucan.

Studies have shown that consuming oats with at least 3 g of beta-glucan led to a six to seven percent reduction in bad cholesterol levels. The heart-healthy benefits of eating oats are due to the levels of beta-glucan that oats contain.

11. Activate defense mode with Beta-Glucan

When attacked by cold, flu, infection, fatigue, or stress, one must consume beta-glucans to strengthen your immune system. It activates and boosts white blood cells and the body’s natural killer cells.

In the case of serious, aggressive infection or following surgery, beta-glucans are often even administered by IV or injection. Additional studies have shown that the best source of beta-glucans kills bacteria that is in the blood and that the introduction of yeast beta-glucans protects against sepsis. When given after serious wounds or surgery, beta-glucans have also been shown to reduce the chances of infection and reduces the effects of upper respiratory tract infections.

12. How Beta-Glucan Soothe and Firm Skin?

Typically in capsule form, beta-glucan supplements are absorbed by the intestinal tract and help in the rebuilding process of collagen after a wound. The reestablishment of skin tissue where the wound occurred is part of the wound healing process. With multiple layers and types of cells, the skin is more than what we see. As a wound heals, the layers are rebuilt, including the collagen fibers which are strands that help glowing skin retain its elasticity.

Additionally, glucans have also been found to be very effective at healing skin conditions such as bedsores, dermatitis, diabetic ulcers, eczema, wounds, radiation burns, and even wrinkles.

13. Beta-Glucan: The Fiber that Supports Gut Health

It’s no surprise that a type of soluble fiber like beta-glucan would be good for the gut, and research backs this up. In general, probiotic supplements and foods, like those containing beta-glucan, are beneficial to the health of your gut microbiome.

Research shows that mushrooms act as a prebiotic to stimulate the healthy growth of good bacteria in the gut. Beta-glucans form a major part of mushrooms. As a rich source of carbohydrates like beta-glucans, mushrooms are a good choice of prebiotic to help feed the gut. A healthy gut microbiome is linked to a lot of benefits like a strong immune system, brain health, heart health, good sleep, and improved mood.

14. Decrease inflammation

Chronic inflammation is linked to several health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and some autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Acute inflammation is your body’s natural response to injury. But when prolonged, can lead to serious health problems.

It’s thought that beta-glucans can decrease the body’s inflammatory response.

Beta-glucans from fungi have been found to exhibit a range of activities including anti-tumor, immune-stimulating, and anti-inflammatory effects. The anti-inflammatory effect comes from beta-glucan's ability to regulate inflammatory markers in the body.

Did you Know? White Cells Make Your Immune System Work

15. Regulate Blood Sugar Levels

For people who have suffered from diabetes in past or are still suffering, beta-glucans can serve as a much-needed medic. The soluble fiber in beta-glucans causes the stomach to empty more slowly and thus glucose to be absorbed in a more measured rate, diminishing insulin spikes.

Both oat and fungal beta-glucans have been shown to reduce blood glucose levels. By helping to regulate blood sugar levels, it could reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and may help to improve blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

16. Can Boost Satiety and Help With Weight Loss

Obesity is a global problem that can have disastrous impacts on health and quality of life. Beta-glucan may help to reduce the risk of obesity. Research shows that Beta-glucan increases feelings of fullness, causing you to eat less and aiding in weight loss.

Research shows that mushroom-derived beta-glucan has been found to prevent obesity  in initial studies. Research indicates that consuming between four to seven grams per day of beta-glucan (or sometimes up to 10 grams) can lead to reduced hunger and help with weight loss.

"You start treating your body right and your immune system is better." Aaron Bruno

17. How does it Work?

Beta-glucan isn’t absorbed directly during the digestive process. Instead, it slows down the transit of food. When food is digested slower, carbohydrates are absorbed more slowly. This helps to produce more steady blood sugar levels. In addition to this, beta-glucan can take cholesterol with it as it moves through the digestive system.

The immune-boosting benefits of beta-glucan tend to be most prominent in medicinal mushrooms. Whereas, beta-glucan derived from cereal, particularly oats, has been found useful for managing cholesterol levels. You also have yeast-derived beta-glucan from baker’s yeast.

18. Keep Kids healthy and Families thriving

As a powerful support for the immune system, beta-glucan covers our kids’ bases while navigating a healthy childhood.

Kids' immune systems are bombarded daily by breathing in a variety of environmental pollutants. glucan was found to significantly improve the immunosuppression caused by various toxins, making it an optimal molecule for children from environmentally polluted areas.

19. Beta-Glucan keeps athletes endurance healthier

As athletes, we want to be able to push hard training sessions without getting sick. Athletes at all levels can face harsh environmental factors as well as physical and psychological stress. These factors can negatively impact the immune system and physical health. One can arm himself when training, by using Beta Glucans.

In a clinical study, McFarlin BK, Et al. observed marathoners taking Beta-Glucan for four weeks experienced a 40% reduction in upper respiratory tract infection symptoms.

Validating previous research with athletes, Mah E, Et al. observed that Beta-glucan has reduced the total severity of upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and duration of symptoms during marathon training and post-marathon participation.

20. Beta-Glucan for 45+

Our immune system slows and weakens with the age. In order to maintain their health, elderly people should take a proactive approach to support their immune function. There are several ways to fight ailments, including lifestyle changes, exercise, and nutrition.

  • In a cold-and-flu season study with older adults, Fuller R, Et al. observed Beta Glucan intake showed a strong trend towards reducing the number of upper respiratory tract infections, reducing symptom days of a cold, and significant changes in the body’s response to viral encounters and inflammation.
  • Fuller R, Et al. observed participants taking Beta-Glucan had a 16% decrease in total upper respiratory tract infection symptom days.

21. Stressed? Beta Glucan might uplift your mood

No one is immune from stress, and unfortunately, more and more people are suffering from health-related problems that come with chronic stress. Beta-glucan is known as a biological response modifier due to its impact on the immune system.

  • The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that women under moderately intense psychological stress had better moods, higher energy levels, and fewer infections when they took a supplement containing beta-glucan from baker’s yeast.
  • In a recent independent clinical study, Beta Force Beta-glucan base has been shown to greatly increase in their general health in highly stressed individuals.

22. Can Pets And Other Animals Take Beta-Glucan For Immune Health?

As an immune system modulator, beta-glucans show great potential not only in the treatment of humans, but also for invertebrates, rodents, fish, domestic farm animals, and household pets!

Research is currently being conducted on the role beta-glucans may play in replacing antibiotics in both animal feed and aquaculture.

23. Which Beta-Glucan to choose and why?

While evaluating a beta-glucan for its immune health benefits and functionality, it's important to take a few things into consideration:

  • The source and strain of yeast used
  • The manufacturing process
  • The quality assurance methods
  • The mechanism of action in research journals explained, defined, or published in peer-review
  • The researchers' findings
  • The safety protocol of the ingredients and also its verification

24. Beta-Glucan via Supplements

The best way to integrate more beta-glucan into the diet is with a supplement. Beta-glucan supplements are widely available for purchase online and are also sold in many natural-food stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Many beta-glucan supplements source their beta-glucan from substances like baker's yeast. Others contain medicinal mushrooms like shiitake and maitake (both found to be rich in beta-glucan). While research on the health effects of medicinal mushroom supplements is somewhat limited, a number of studies suggest that they can help boost immunity.

25. Is beta-glucan bad for you in large amounts?

Whether consumed from foods or supplements, BG has a long track record of safe use.

That said, it’s still not entirely known how beta-glucans may affect people with compromised immune systems or autoimmune diseases (such as inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, etc.).

26. Know when it's too much!

At this time there is not an agreed-upon daily requirement of beta-glucans. Based on available research, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority have concluded that consuming three grams of beta-glucans per day can help reduce cholesterol levels by about 5 percent to 8 percent.

Higher doses, between seven to 10 grams per day, seem to provide additional benefits, such as curbing hunger and leading to reduced calorie intake.

The type made from yeast, oats or barley is often used to produce supplements that can be mixed with juice or water. You can use this type once or twice daily.

27. Standard Dosage

There is no standard dose for beta-glucan. Research has shown various levels to be effective and it differs based on the source of beta-glucan. Successful studies do not list a consistent dosage but tend to use yeast-derived beta-glucans. Beta-glucan supplements come in doses of 100 – 500 mg. The general dosage for beta-glucans is 250 mg. Look for supplements that mix Beta 1,3 and Beta 1,6 glucans, since these are derived from yeast

28. How to Add More Beta Glucan to Your Diet

You’ll find beta glucans in foods such as:

  • Seaweeds and algae, such as brown seaweed and Euglena algae
  • Beans, peas, lentils
  • To a lesser extent, vegetables, and fruits, including broccoli, sweet potato, eggplant, apples, strawberries, and prunes

29. What are the side effects of beta-glucan?

The majority of clinical trials conducted on animals and humans have not uncovered any adverse effects related to taking beta-glucans whatsoever. However, when administered intravenously, it has been reported that “Beta-glucans may cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, hives, flushing, rash, high or low blood pressure, or excessive urination.”

If you take any medications that affect your immune system, be sure to speak with your doctor before supplementing with beta-glucans, since they may decrease the effectiveness of these medications.

30. Do I still need to take Beta Glucan if I am in good health?

Yes, anyone in any situation can benefit from taking Beta Glucan on a regular basis. Even those individuals who are in great health. Our immune system takes a beating every single day from the quality of the air we breathe to unwanted pesticides in our food.

Our bodies were created and designed in such a way where our immune system normally takes care of these things, but it certainly has its limits; that’s where Beta Glucan comes in.

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