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Beta Glucans Can Boost The Immune System

Nov 8, 2007
It is a known fact that beta glucans can boost the immune system, and they are under study for their use in treating diseases of the immune system and some cancers.

Beta glucans are long chain polysaccharides: special polyglucoses or complex sugars, and there are several different types. Most of the research on them has been carried out in Japan, so it is no coincidence that their main sources are maitake and shiitake mushrooms and AHCC. The latter is short for Active Hexose Correlated Compound produced by the Amino UP Chemical Co in Sapporo by hot water extraction of the products of enzymes and certain fungi. Baker's yeast is another very rich source of beta glucans.

They have been found to boost the efficiency of the immune system and to improve recovery rates from a number of immune conditions ranging from cancer to arthritis. Before discussing what this means in terms of the immune system, it is best to understand what the immune system is. Most people are acquainted with the term 'acquired immune system' without fully understanding what the term means. In fact, this is immunity gained through the body remembering previous infections, and creating the antibodies needed to fight them when they reappear.

For example, resistance to German measles by means of the rubella vaccine is attained through the immune system learning what antibodies it created to destroy the rubella virus introduced into the body by the vaccine. The next time the same virus enters the body, the immune system remembers what it did, and creates more of the same antibodies. However, the problem with the Acquired Immune System is that it only works when the actual virus or bacteria are known.

If the memory has been activated by means of a vaccine then the pathogen would have to have been previously identified. If not, then before the immune system can acquire a memory, it would have first to fight the disease itself without the help of a vaccine. Many people can die, sometimes hundreds of thousands or even more, before a pathogen can be identified. That is why the Innate Immune System is so important. That fights a disease from scratch, without any previous knowledge of it.

It is the Innate Immune System that beta glucans appear to boost, and the body's ability to beat off conditions that would normally stimulate the immune system into action. Glucans appear to increase and accelerate the system into acting more vigorously against invaders. So how do they achieve that? For some reason they are able to increase white cell production and activity. Not just ordinary white blood cells, but the monocytes that produce the macrophages. The term 'macrophage' is Greek for 'big eater' and their function is to engulf and digest invading cells.

Macrophages are the generals of the body's armies, and they can produce cytokines that signal for help from the full might of the immune system: the T-cells, B-cells and all the other killer cells that roam the body's blood and lymphatic systems. This massive attack on the enemy can be called up to help destroy cancer cells, inflammatory diseases and any other condition that the body wants to get rid of.

The reason that beta glucans are so effective in boosting the immune system is possibly due to the size of the molecules, their water solubility allowing them to travel to all parts of the body and their molecular structure. Those that have been studied most are lentinan, from the shiitake mushroom (Lentinus edodes), grifolan from the maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa), achizphylan from the split gill fungus (Schizophyllum commune) and some others that have specific properties. The beta-(1,3/1,6)-glucans from bakers yeast have also been found to have strong modulating effects on the immune system.

The myco-polysaccharides, as fungus derived beta glucans are often referred to, not only modulate the immune system per se, but also appear to have anti-carcinogenic effects, anti-inflammatory properties and other properties that indicate an overall strengthening of the immune properties of the body such as providing protection against diseases of the heart, liver, kidneys and teeth, and also helps to lower the levels of cholesterol in the body. Some have shown a very limited positive effect on some of the symptoms of HIV, but studies are still underway and the substances can by no means as yet be claimed to be an effective treatment for the condition.

Maitake and derivatives have been shown to have a reducing effect on blood glucose in animals, and this anti-diabetic effect is believed to work by inhibiting the metabolism of blood glucose. Other glucan sources have shown significant anti-diabetic properties in animals. Although they show such properties it is not stated that they present a cure for diabetes since they do not. Further research is continuing into how they substances can be used to help diabetic patients.

That's what they do, but when should you take them? Beta glucan supplements are not intended for use only when you have a serious infection or illness, but as a protection for times when your body defenses will be at their weakest and under strain. In winter, for example, there are lots of colds and flu going around, and anything that boosts the immune system is useful. Take a supplement before and during the winter months.

You should also use beta glucans when you are at particular risk at any time of the year, such as when you have an illness or prior to hospital admission for any reason. Perhaps you are traveling abroad when you are likely to meet bacteria and viruses that are foreign to you and for which you might have little immunity. That is when beta glucans are of extreme use to you. They are also beneficial after surgery to prevent any side effect of infection. They will not work immediately, but results normally appear within 48 hours.

The Beta glucans are just one example of the way in which medical science is showing a subtle shift in the way it approaches some forms of disease. Rather than attempting to find a cure for every individual form of disease, research is looking at ways of helping the body to help itself through boosting the immune system.

This makes sense in a society where increasing pollution is sparking the formation of more and more genetic mutations of viruses that are becoming increasingly difficult to treat individually, and of bacteria that are becoming increasingly resistant to known antibiotics. It is far better to help the human immune system to defeat these mutations itself and so provide a more comprehensive means of defeating infection that by simply treating each individually.

Beta Glucan supplements are considered over the counter and available at any health food store in various dosages from 3 milligrams to as much as 200 milligrams each pill.
About the Author
More information on beta glucan and other herbal remedies is available at VitaNet, LLC Health Foods. http://vitanetonline.com/
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