The answer is a resounding yes.
So says Professor Somsak Varakamin of the Panacee Medical Center in Thailand. The words are his: He describes beta glucan as “the world’s most powerful immune booster.”
He writes: “In a medical crisis, if you were limited to only one disease-fighting substance to protect your health and immunity, without exception, beta glucan should be the one you choose.”
This natural product is already recognized for its immune-enhancing ability in Japan, where it is licensed for use in cancer treatment. In the United States, a supplement maker is allowed to make a health claim for beta glucan – very unusual for a food supplement – but you won’t be surprised to learn it has not been approved for a patent.
Here’s what makes beta glucan so special. . .
Continued below. . .
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Impacts many areas of health
Beta glucans are natural fiber molecules — long-chain polysaccharides (complex sugars) — that help to strengthen the cell walls of yeast, fungi and some bacteria. They are also found in the endosperm (a part of the seed) of grains such as oats and barley.
Research into beta glucan has been going on for many decades, with tens of thousands of publications covering its benefits.
Cholesterol: Total and LDL (bad) cholesterol decreased significantly in human studies of beta glucan derived from oat fiber extract. The Food and Drug Administration felt the evidence was compelling enough to approve a cholesterol-lowering health claim for beta glucan two decades ago. That’s why a box of Cheerios is legally allowed to say “can help lower cholesterol as part of a heart healthy diet.”
Diabetes: Soluble fibers of beta glucan are able to modify the digestion of starch and improve glucose response after a meal.
In a review of studies conducted in 2014, researchers from Brazil concluded that “ingestion of BGs was efficient in decreasing glucose levels of diabetic patients.”
Cardiovascular disease: Short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are known to benefit many aspects of the cardiovascular system, such as maintaining the health of the endothelium — the inner lining of blood vessels. In human studies, circulating SCFAs have been shown to increase after consuming beta glucan from cereals.
Infections: Two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials demonstrated that beta glucan from brewer’s yeast reduced the incidence of colds in healthy volunteers.
In the first trial, the supplement reduced the number of symptoms by a quarter compared to placebo. In the second, a much larger percentage of volunteers in the beta glucan group avoided catching colds compared to the placebo group (15.6% vs 2.0%).
In another study, firefighters who took beta glucan had 23% fewer upper respiratory tract infections compared to those taking placebo.
How beta glucan fared in cancer studies
There have been about a hundred studies looking at the effects of beta glucan on cancer cells. Most of these have been conducted on cells cultured in a lab dish, but there have also been some human trials that included glucans as part of conventional cancer treatment.
In vitro (cell culture) studies found that beta glucan inhibited growth of human breast cancer cells by inducing cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis (programmed cell death). The supplement was also effective against gastric and prostate cancer cell lines.
In animal studies, there was a significant increase in the survival of mice with Hodgkins and non-Hodgkins lymphoma in those taking glucans in combination with the cancer drug rituximab, compared to the groups taking either glucans or the drug alone.
In various other animal studies, beta glucan killed human ovarian cells by triggering apoptosis, reduced metastasis in ovarian cancer, lung cancer and melanoma, delayed tumor growth and protected against radiation injury.
Human studies show extended survival and improved quality of life in patients with advanced gastric, prostate and colorectal cancers.
How does beta glucan improve immunity?
Beta glucan differs widely in its structure, properties, activity and effects. Not all beta glucan molecules bolster the immune system. The ones that do are derived from baker’s yeast or medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake or reishi. These are referred to as 1-3, 1-6 beta glucan due to their chemical structure.
Beta glucan does not boost immunity as such. It is considered to be an immune modulator that primes the immune system so it’s much more vigilant, improving the system’s response when it’s confronted with a rogue molecule or microbe that poses a threat to the body.
When taken into the body, beta glucan is broken down into smaller particles over the course of several days. These fragments are then able to lock on to certain receptors found on the surface of most of the immune system’s white blood cells. (The specific receptor is complement receptor 3.) This puts the immune system’s main defense mechanism on high alert.
Fights cancer four ways
Beta glucan improves immunity to fight cancer on four fronts.
1. With beta glucans bound to their surface, macrophages – the body’s first line of defense – and natural killer cells, become highly activated to perform more optimally. Both of these are immune system cells. Natural killer or NK cells are deemed especially important in fighting cancer cells.
2. Beta glucan also stimulates the influx of new immune cells from the bone marrow, where these cells are generated. This creates a more rapid flow into the various lymphoid organs.
3. In response to cancer cells, antibodies bind to them with fragments of complement proteins, but often the response is weak. The immune cells primed by beta glucan recognize these antibody-complement complexes to allow for a far stronger immune response.
4. Beta glucan allows non-specific stimulation of the immune system by activating cells to produce tumor necrosis factor, interleukins and interferon – all of which are important immune molecules.
The research of Vaclav Vetvicka
Vaclav Vetvicka, Ph.D., professor of pathology at the University of Louisville, is one of the world’s leading authorities on beta glucan. When it comes to stimulating the immune system, he regards beta glucan as “a class apart.”
Beta glucan, he writes, “will help protect you against cancer and many other illnesses that would normally be eradicated by a strong and fully functioning immune system.
“Glucans are the most significant anti-cancerous immune-stimulant that we are aware of. It is certainly effective against many carcinogens, so your risks of cancer would be greatly reduced.”
For those who choose to undergo chemotherapy, Dr. Vetvicka continues:
“Beta glucans…will protect your immune system cells whilst allowing the drugs to do their job on the cancerous ones. Production of white blood cells will start again very quickly after your chemotherapy treatment, so you will recuperate a lot quicker.
“Studies have also shown increased survival times when patients took beta glucans at the same time as chemotherapy, compared to those who did not.”
What type of beta glucan to take
To improve immune system response, beta glucan must be taken either as 1-3, 1-6 or 1,3-D glucan sourced from either mushrooms or brewer’s yeast.
Since beta glucan is bound with fats and proteins in cell walls, extracting it from these other complexes to create as pure a product as possible is the key to manufacturing a supplement that will be effective. An impure product reduces the ability of immune cells to recognize beta glucan and bind to it.
As there are so many products in the marketplace, Dr. Vetvicka and a colleague decided in 2010 to test their effects on four aspects of the immune system.
They found considerable differences in the effectiveness of the 16 brands tested. Some had “surprisingly low activity,” with purity ranging from 70%, which is considered to be very low, to an effective high of 85%. The brand that outperformed the rest was Glucan 300 from Transfer Point in Little Mountain, South Carolina.
The research was repeated in 2014. Glucan 300 was again included as a benchmark to test against 15 newer brands that were all different from the original study. This time they looked at six parameters of immunity. They found that “in every tested reaction, the Glucan 300 was the most active sample.”
While there may be effective brands that were not tested, as well as new brands that have come along in the last three years, the results of independent testing suggest that Transfer Point is the company of choice if you want to have confidence in your purchase.