Beta glucans are a polysaccharide with specific immune stimulating properties as well as being recognised for other medicinal benefit. This unique molecule is found naturally in oats, barley, bakers yeast, seaweed and in mushrooms with higher levels found in specifically in those classed as ‘medicinal’ varieties. Long before the substance classes of beta glucans were identified for their immune activity, the beneficial effects of rich beta glucan containing mushrooms such as Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) in Japan or Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) in China were utilised in the traditional Oriental medicine for the strengthening of the body’s immune system[i].
Beta Glucans work to increase immune defences by activating a system in the body which enhances specific immune cells called macrophages and natural killer cells. As a general immune system support, beta glucans have been shown to reduce the incidence of upper respiratory infections such as colds and flu in those susceptible to infection[ii]. In more targeted immune application, they have been studied for their effects in prevention of cellular change, inhibition of tumour growth at promotion stage and also their adjuvant use during treatments including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy[iii].
In addition to their use around immunity, these biologically active fibres are known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, anti-oxidant, anti-allergic and anti-osteoporotic activity. The biological and physiochemical properties of β-glucans strongly differ, depending on the source of extraction[iv].
In supplement form, it is primarily extracted from bakers yeast and is well researched in its Beta 1-3/1-6 form most commonly for its immune supportive properties. Medicinal mushroom whole food powders and supplements also provide an excellent source of this unique compound.
We recommend consuming foods rich in beta glucans in the diet and this can be supplemented with either powder or capsule form of extracts or whole foods such as mushrooms. The form of beta glucan is of importance when it comes to choosing the right foods and supplements for your health goals. And although beta glucans are generally recognised as safe[v], care does need to be taken around interactions with specific medications such as immunosuppressant forms.
[i] Stier H, Ebbeskotte V, Gruenwald J. Immune-modulatory effects of dietary Yeast Beta-1,3/1,6-D-glucan. Nutr J. 2014;13:38. Published 2014 Apr 28. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-38
[ii] Samuelsen AB, Schrezenmeir J, Knutsen SH. Effects of orally administered yeast-derived beta-glucans: a review. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2014;58(1):183‐193. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201300338
[iii] Akramiene D, Kondrotas A, Didziapetriene J, Kevelaitis E. Effects of beta-glucans on the immune system. Medicina (Kaunas). 2007;43(8):597-606. PMID: 17895634.
[iv] Bashir KMI, Choi JS. Clinical and Physiological Perspectives of β-Glucans: The Past, Present, and Future. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(9):1906. Published 2017 Sep 5. doi:10.3390/ijms18091906
[v] Samuelsen AB, Schrezenmeir J, Knutsen SH. Effects of orally administered yeast-derived beta-glucans: a review. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2014 Jan;58(1):183-93. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201300338. Epub 2013 Sep 10. PMID: 24019098.