WHAT IS BETA GLUCAN?
Beta Glucan (or sometimes written B-Glucan) belongs to a group of physiologically active compounds called biological response modifiers. This term means that Beta Glucan is capable of causing the body's immune system to respond in positive ways.
For example, if the immune system is over-reactive as in autoimmune disease or asthma, as a biological response modifier beta glucan would calm down the immune system. If the immune system is under-reactive and not responding well to foreign invaders, a biological response modifier would rev up the immune system.
WHERE IS BETA GLUCAN FOUND IN PLANTS?
Beta Glucan is a compound found inside cell walls. It makes up the structure of the cell wall. It’s also one of the most abundant forms of polysaccharides or plant sugars that is found inside baker's yeast, fungi, medicinal mushrooms, seaweed, oat and barley cell walls.
A polysaccharide is a chemical structure composed of many sugar molecules; Beta Glucan is a string of glucose sugar molecules linked together with a certain type of linkage called a (1→3) linkage.
When Beta Glucan is put into water, the structure changes into a triple helix, single helix or random coils. The sugar strings may branch off at different points of the chemical structure. For example, the side branches of sugar in bacteria are 1–>4 branches whereas in fungi, it’s 1–>6.
Let's try to have this makes sense to the average person. The different sources of beta glucan result in different chain linkages. The chain linkages have different effects on the immune system with the more complex linkages showing greater immune system responses. The more complex their structure, the more you will see immune system effects and anti-cancer effects.
Beta Glucan is considered a type of carbohydrate that humans cannot digest. However, your intestinal flora ferments it, resulting in strong immunity responses for us all.
WHY HAVEN'T YOU HEARD OF BETA GLUCAN?
About 150 years of research has been done on Beta Glucan; yet most people still haven’t heard about it. There could be a lot of reasons for this. Here are some of them:
1. It’s Not a Heavily Marketed Supplement Yet
Natural healing doctors have yet to come forward and integrate Beta Glucan into their healing protocols, with the exception of a few advanced thinkers who have used Beta Glucan in a variety of ways including supplements, IVs and injections. Integrative health doctors are still getting educated on the importance and the role of Beta Glucan.
In order for minds to change about a supplement and awareness to increase, a social media marketing campaign needs to occur. Usually this starts with a doctor or researcher who can speak about the benefits of a supplement. He/she writes a book that goes to the top of the Amazon bestseller list and over 100,000 people read it. This has yet to happen for Beta Glucan. However, it’s only a matter of time! The best news right now is that you are finding out about it before everyone else!
2. Earlier Studies Questioned Its Effectiveness
Although there are almost 16,000 research studies that focus on Beta Glucan, the science is still emerging. In the early days of research, some studies questioned its effectiveness. In the last decades, while scientists have found more and wonderful benefits from Beta Glucan, the public has yet to loudly hear of it.
3. Beta Glucan Is “Only” a Polysaccharide
Since Beta Glucan is a sugar compound called a polysaccharide, it may seem less important than some new novel compound found in a natural supplement. However, the important thing to note here about Beta Glucan is that in every instance in nature where it’s found, it does the same thing – boosts immunity.
Once the public catches on to the pattern, it will be as if the veil has been removed from their eyes and they will think, “How could I have missed this?”
4. The Probiotics Industry Had to Take Off First
Beta Glucan acts as a pre-biotic. It feeds healthy gut flora that acts as a probiotic. Thus, decades ago when probiotics were not even known, it would have been impossible to talk about some of the benefits of Beta Glucan. This natural supplement had to wait for its time to come – which is now.
HOW DOES BETA GLUCAN IMPROVE THE IMMUNE SYSTEM?
In animals, scientists have found that Beta Glucan is absorbed quite rapidly in the stomach and small intestine. From here, the white blood cells called macrophages engulf and 'eat up' the Beta Glucan. In the process, smaller parts of the original Beta Glucan are carried to the bone marrow and the endothelial reticular system. Watch this video to learn more.
The endothelial reticular system is a combination of tissues including lymph nodes, connective tissue, spleen, liver and lungs. In these locations, white blood cells grab on to the smaller fragments of Beta Glucan and turn on the immune system response, revving up the fight against bacteria, viruses and fungi.
When the immune system response is turned on, tumor cells are also destroyed. That’s a win for all of us because it is said that our body has cells that can become cancerous at any point in time. It’s simply up to the immune system to destroy them.
In humans, it’s still a bit perplexing how Beta Glucan works. For example, in one clinical study, doctors gave different doses of Beta Glucan – 100 mg, 200 mg or 400 mg to patients for four days.
When the researchers tested the blood for the Beta Glucan, the blood had none to show for any of the dosages. Yet, when they tested the immune system function, such as an immunoglobulin A or IgA found in saliva, the levels were quite a bit higher on the highest dosage. This means Beta Glucan is working on the body without having to even get into the bloodstream to get the job done. It’s actually quite amazing!
And by the way, none of the patients experienced any side effects!
Other studies have shown additional ways that the Beta Glucan act. They attach themselves to the receptors on immune system cells. This ends up activating different signaling pathways in the body. In a way, Beta Glucan is like radio show hosts getting their message out to many different people simultaneously.
Written by Dr Donna Schwontkowski
Dr. Donna Schwontkowski has 25 years experience in treating patients from an alternative health perspective, Dr. Donna Schwontkowski offers insight into how to use natural methods of healing to improve human health.
Chi-Fung Chan, Godfrey, et al. The effects of b-glucan on human immune and cancer cells. J Hematol Oncol 2009;2:25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2704234/
Russo, P., et al. Beta Glucans improve growth, viability and colonization of probiotic microorganisms. Int J Mol Sci 2012;13(5):6026-39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3382753/
Novak, M. and Vetvicka, V. Beta Glucans, history and the present: immunomodulatory aspects and mechanisms of action. J Immunotoxicol 2008 Jan;5(1):47-57.