Beta glucans are sugars (classified as polysaccharides) that are found in the cell walls of bacteria, yeasts, algae, fungi, lichens, and plants (like oats and barley). They are the most studied immunomodulator on earth with over 14,000 published studies and are currently being tested in 100 clinical trials. Beta glucans possess immune-stimulating compounds that have been shown to fight cancer and infection through decreasing inflammation in the body. They specifically activate and enhance the body’s immune response to invaders like viruses, bacteria, & cancer cells. For example, the healing properties of mushrooms can be attributed to their high-content of beta glucans, which have been shown to increase host immune defense through enhancing macrophages and natural killer cell function.
Beta glucans work by activating both of the components of the immune system: the innate immune response and the acquired immune response. The innate immune system is primarily responsible for acting as a physical as well as chemical barrier to infectious agents, whereas the acquired immune response is responsible for the destruction of foreign particles once they have entered the body, and consists of mainly B cells and T cells. During the process of first exposure, the acquired immune system must learn how to attack and ultimately destroy foreign particles.
Studies have also shown that the fiber in beta glucans helps to increase the cytokine response. This response helps to regulate various inflammatory responses as well as the immune system response in breast, stomach, and colorectal cancers. These studies have even concluded that some forms of beta glucans may be beneficial in helping to reduce the size of cancerous tumors, as well as helping to prevent cancer metastasis.
The ability of beta glucans to decrease the body’s inflammation response is significant, given that inflammation can cause severe damage when it becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation has been shown to be an underlying factor in almost every disease. In fact, inflammation does not only play a key role in the development of conditions such as asthma and allergies, but research has shown that parkinson’s, alzheimer’s, cancer, hormone-related diseases like PCOS & endometriosis, autoimmune disorders, and even brain-related disorders like depression occur when the body is in an inflammatory-state. Furthermore, levels of cytokines (pro-inflammatory molecules) have even been found to be higher in people with mood & other psychotic disorders.
In addition to its anti-inflammatory benefits, beta glucans have been found to help:
Check out the following foods that are rich in beta-glucans, and start adding them to your diet today:
- Oats & whole grains
- Reishi, maitake, and shiitake mushrooms