What are Beta Glucans?
Traditional Chinese medicine has long relied on beta-glucans and the health benefits of mushrooms. Reishi, shiitake, and maitake mushrooms are especially good sources of these polysaccharides occurring naturally in fungi cell walls, as well as the cell walls of oats, barley, seaweed, and other plants. While the medicinal uses of beta-glucans date back thousands of years, it wasn’t until the 20th century that the role of the specific role of beta-glucans was investigated in depth.
Beta-glucans act as modulators, substances binding to a receptor and changing that receptor’s response to a stimulus. This potent immunomodulatory activity allows beta-glucans to act on a wide range of receptors. These include T-cells, major adaptive immune system components; neutrophils, the primary white blood cells leading to immune system response; macrophages, white blood cells that hunt down and kill threatening microorganisms, and dendritic cells, known as the immune system’s sentinels.
Most of the effects of medicinal mushrooms are attributable to beta-glucans. To date, approximately 200 beta-glucans have been identified in mushroom bodies and spores. Growing conditions and fruiting maturity influence the type of beta-glucans and their content.
Boosting the Immune System
Mushroom polysaccharides trigger positive changes in the immune system. These include increased antibody production to fight infection, and immune cell activation. Beta-glucans increase the body’s interferon production. These proteins notify your immune system that there are invaders within. They then launch immune cells to fight the battle.
Beta-glucans stimulate the production of cytokines, compounds that reduce inflammation. Incorporating mushroom polysaccharides via supplementation into a daily regimen boosts the body’s innate and adaptive immune system.
Beta-glucans can improve gut health. They serve as a source of energy for Bifidobacterium spp., Lactobacillus spp. and other crucial microbiota. Acting as prebiotics, beta-glucans stimulate microbiota growth, allowing more production of short-chain fatty acids. The role of short-chain fatty acids in the gut is the maintenance of osmotic pressure, permitting normal digestive function.
Not only do beta-glucans promote “good” gut bacteria, but they mitigate the effects of bad bacteria. Too much inflammation harms the gut, but beta-glucans can reduce inflammation to produce an optimized intestinal environment.
When the gut microbiome is healthy, the entire body benefits. That includes not only better digestion, but improved sleep and mood.
As beta-glucans travel through the digestive tract, they take the fat known as cholesterol along with them. By helping to reduce cholesterol levels, beta-glucans can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke relating to cholesterol build-up in the arteries. They may also aid in keeping blood pressure at normal levels, which also aids cardiovascular health.
Cancer and Mushroom Beta-Glucans
Studies have found anti-cancer properties in beta-glucans. “Functional activities of beta-glucans in the prevention or treatment of cervical cancer,” an article in the March 5, 2020 edition of the Journal of Ovarian Research, discusses how beta-glucans are promising therapeutic options for the prevention of cancer.
While the focus is on cervical cancer, the article notes beta-glucans have anti-cancer and anti-tumor effects on other types of the disease. This is not a result of destroying cancer cells directly, but by bolstering the immune system so that it is in a stronger position to fight tumors. For instance, cytokines also act to help the immune system fight cancer. Consumption of beta-glucans may prevent cancer, and if cancer is present, slow its development.
In addition, medicinal mushrooms can increase the efficacy of traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Beta-glucans may increase the survival time of those diagnosed with metastatic cancer. Patients undergoing cancer treatment should always check with their oncologists before using any type of supplement, even one as beneficial as beta-glucans. As with any complementary therapy, there is the possibility that it could interfere with specific medications.
Other Beta-Glucan Health Benefits
If you suffer from allergies, beta-glucan supplementation may help. They promote allergic resistance by increasing the number of Th1 lymphocytes. These helper cells are necessary for virtually all adaptive immune responses. Supplementation of beta-glucan for four weeks can reduce so-called “hay fever,” resulting from allergic reactions to various pollens and molds.
Beta-glucans may assist in diabetes management, as they aid in blood sugar regulation.
Obesity is a national public health crisis. Overweight people are more vulnerable to many types of diseases, including cancer and heart disease, and it appears that Covid-19 severely impacts the obese when compared to those of normal weight. Beta-glucans have shown promise in reducing the risk of obesity.
The Brainfood Mushroom Company offers powerful mushroom extracts rich in beta-glucans for enhancing your immune system and optimizing health and wellness. Take a look at the line of Mushroom Supplements we carry here.
Links to Sources
Frontiers | The Complexity of Fungal β-Glucan in Health and Disease: Effects on the Mononuclear Phagocyte System | Immunology (frontiersin.org)
Mushrooms as Brain Food | Natural Medicine Journal
Functional activities of beta-glucans in the prevention or treatment of cervical cancer | Journal of Ovarian Research | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)
β-Glucans: Multi-Functional Modulator of Wound Healing (nih.gov)