The immune system’s role is a vital one, often unrecognized until it stops working properly. It defends against bacteria, viruses, and toxins that can infiltrate the body at any time. Different organs, cells, and proteins make up the immune system, each performing a different, yet crucial function, all while working together to keep the body’s health intact.
To keep everything running smoothly, there are several vitamins, minerals, and compounds that help protect, support, and boost the immune system, one of which is beta-glucan. Beta-glucan is a form of soluble dietary fiber primarily found in whole grains and certain types of medicinal mushrooms, as well as being available in supplement form.1 At GEM, our vitamin bites boast a healthy amount of beta-glucan in each serving, helping to support your body from the inside out. Five key beta-glucan benefits include:
- Provides resistance against infection
- Supports upper respiratory health
- Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
- Maintains health gut bacteria
- Slows cancer growth
Find out more about how to benefit from this valuable ingredient and how to incorporate it into your everyday regimen.
#1: Provides Resistance Against Infection
Beta-glucan is primarily known for its immunity benefits, both in fighting and preventing bacteria and viruses. Research indicates beta-glucan may stimulate the immune system and help the body fight off infection and disease. Since the structural variation of beta-glucans from different sources may change their physiological functions, it can initiate various immune responses.
Beta-glucans can act on a variety of immune cell membrane receptors and may enhance tumor necrosis factor and various types of interleukins, which are naturally occurring proteins that regulate cell growth and stimulate the immune system.4 Active polysaccharides belonging to a specific group of beta-glucans can increase host immune defense by enhancing macrophages and natural killer cell function.2
Another study highlights how beta-glucans sourced specifically from fungi and yeast have immune-modulating properties that affect leukocyte activity and contribute to increased resistance against infections.3So, how does beta-glucan work?
When taken orally, beta-glucans pass through the stomach unchanged where macrophages pick up its particles through beta-glucan receptors where immediate cell activation takes place. Then, these cells travel to lymph nodes as part of their antigen-presenting function, where they release cytokines and prompt immune system activity.
#2: Supports Upper Respiratory Health
Beta-glucan health benefits also include supporting immune function by reducing upper respiratory tract symptoms, particularly in athletes. These symptoms often include nasal congestion, wheezing, throat irritation and soreness, among others. A co-authored study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine evaluated the effects of a beta-glucan dietary supplement among marathon runners during a four-week treatment period.5
The study involved 75 marathon runners, both male and female, ranging in age from 18-53 years-old in a placebo-controlled, double-blind study. The key results presented evidence that the administered beta-glucan supplement maintained immune function in endurance athletes, reduced post-exercise upper respiratory tract symptoms in marathon runners, and improved mood, reduced fatigue, and increased energy in all of the participating athletes.
Furthermore, study participants taking 250 mg of beta-glucan reported 38% higher scores and those taking 500 mg reported 58% higher scores in response to the effects on their overall health when compared to the placebo group.
#3: Reduces Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is important to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Although the body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, high levels can lead to fatty deposits in the blood vessels, which eventually can prevent the flow of blood through the arteries.
Another one of the main beta-glucan health benefits is it helps lower cholesterol. Also, because beta-glucans are a soluble fiber, they take longer for the body to digest, which reduces the likelihood of blood sugar spikes since the body won’t absorb sugar as quickly.
The United States Food and Drug Administration approved a health claim regarding the efficacy of oat beta glucan in reducing the risk of heart disease and plasma cholesterol levels. To support this claim, a Nutrition Reviews scientific analysis presented evidence that oat beta glucan in doses of at least three grams per day may reduce cholesterol levels by 5-10%.6
#4: Maintains Healthy Gut Bacteria
In addition to aiding in lowering cholesterol, maintaining healthy gut bacteria is one of the most significant beta glucan benefits. Several studies suggest beta-glucan has an impact on regulating changes in gut bacteria. When combined with prebiotics, beta-glucan supports overall digestive health and weight loss. 7
There’s also an identified gut-brain connection, which makes the focus on gut health an important one. Some researchers have found that experiencing intestinal problems can send signals to the brain that causes anxiety, stress, or depression. For example, if you feel nauseated before giving a presentation, this is due to the linked conditions and signals being passed through from your brain to your gut and vice-versa.8
Moreover, the main finding of a study testing the effects of barley beta-glucan found shifts in gut microbiota was correlated with reduced cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as blood pressure and BMI. These are a few of the many examples illustrating how sustaining a healthy gut bacteria environment supports healthy body functioning all the way around.
#5: Slows Cancer Growth
Research has also identified beta-glucans as having anti-carcinogenic activity. They may inhibit tumor growth in the promotion stage and prevent tumor metastasis. Evidence also shows how it may enhance the immune response during chemotherapy and radiotherapy and restore hematopoiesis to ensure an adequate supply of blood cells following a bone marrow injury.9
As a type of biologic response modifier, doctors may recommend beta-glucans as a form of immunotherapy to fight cancer. They are valuable in slowing the spread of cancer growth in size and to other areas of the body. Furthermore, beta-glucans have the ability to regulate a tumor microenvironment by joining both parts of the immune system together and adjusting the phenotype of immune-suppressive cells that are immune-stimulatory. There’s also evolving research which explores how beta-glucan is involved in trained immunity, where innate cells take on memory phenotypes.10
Also, certain beta-glucans, like lentinan, which is derived from medicinal mushrooms, and polysaccharide-K have been used as part of cancer therapy for the past several decades. Research has shown beta-glucans have been effective in possessing anti-tumor and anti-cancer activities and enhancing the effects of chemotherapy. One study revealed that patients with advanced gastric or colorectal cancer had a prolonged survival time with the administration of beta-glucans in conjunction with chemotherapy.11
Lastly, a separate (animal) study showed evidence that beta-glucan derived from yeast used in combination with cyclophosphamide for treatment of bladder carcinoma in mice resulted in decreased tumor growth, prevented tumor appearance, and decreased mortality.
Other Ways Beta-Glucan May Be Beneficial
A Beta-Glucan supplement offers much more than immune health benefits. Although beta-glucan benefits largely support the immune system, there have also been claims it may help with allergies, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study found beta-glucan can be used to decrease the symptoms of ragweed allergies as a natural and effective treatment.
Results were based on a four-week trial period of taking 250 mg of beta-glucan per day. Study participants taking beta-glucan also experienced decreased sleep problems, reduced nasal and eye symptoms, as well as improved quality of life and overall mood.12
Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
Certain sources of beta-glucan have been found to ease inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. One study evaluated the impact of oat beta-glucan on inflammatory markers. Results showed administering beta-glucan supplements led to reduced inflammation and improvement of signaling molecules, attracting cells to the site of infection/inflammation.
In this research, low molecular weight beta-glucan was found more effective to the immune cells’ function modulation than beta-glucan from other sources. Therefore, data suggests oat beta-glucans specifically are responsible for suppressing inflammation by decreasing gene expression and the secretion of proinflammatory cytokines, as well as stimulating immune responses against inflammation.13
Making Beta-Glucan Part of Your Everyday Immunity
Suffice it to say, beta-glucan is an essential support for the immune system. As a main ingredient in GEM’s Gut Essentials, it boosts immune health in a single bite. This is in combination with other equally beneficial ingredients, all designed to nourish your overall health.
Through real food, free of added sugar, soy, gluten, and filler ingredients often found in other supplements, GEM’s daily chewable gives you all the nutrients, vitamins, and compounds needed for good health. You can reap beta-glucan health benefits, as well as a daily dose of vitamin D3, zinc, and turmeric to elevate your everyday life.
Vitamin D3 sourced from sustainable plant-based algae is associated with activating the immune system and fighting off acute respiratory illness. Zinc works to stimulate and support healthy immune function. Meanwhile, turmeric is a valuable spice that’s been used for medicinal purposes for centuries due to its powerful antioxidant properties to promote digestive health and regularity. These proactive ingredients, in combination with other spices, fruits, prebiotics, and probiotics are combined together in one healthy bite to keep your body functioning at its best.
Supporting the immune system is an essential part of preventative care that keeps the body healthy and properly functioning to fight off harmful substances that can quickly lead to chronic illness and disease. The more you focus on boosting the immune system through healthy foods and ingredients, the better it can adapt to responses that will protect you in the future.
- Healthline. Beta Glucan: The Heart-Healthy Fiber. https://www.healthline.com/health/beta-glucan-heart-healthy
- Department of Physiology, Kaunas University of Medicine, Kaunas, Lithuania. Akramine, Dalia, et. al. Effects of beta-glucans on the immune system. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17895634/
- Department of Human Biology, Nutrition and Toxicology Institute Maastricht, Maastricht University, The Netherlands. Volman, Julia J., et al. Dietary modulation of immune function by beta-glucans. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18222501/
- Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, B.I.S. College of Pharmacy, Gagra (Moga), India. Rahar, Sandeep, et. al. Preparation, characterization, and biological properties of β-glucans. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3217690/
- SupplementWatch & GLH Nutrition, LLC. Talbott, Shawn and Talbott, Julia. Effect of BETA 1, 3/1, 6 GLUCAN on Upper Respiratory Tract Infection Symptoms and Mood State in Marathon Athletes. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18614945/
- Nutrition Reviews. Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat B-glucan. https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/69/6/299/1815168
- Food Science and Technology Program, Beijing Normal University-Hong Kong Baptist University United International College. Jayachandran, Muthukumaran, et. al. A critical review on the impacts of B-glucans on gut microbiota and human health. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30196242/
- Harvard Health Publishing. The gut-brain connection. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
- Healthline. Beta Glucan as a Cancer Treatment. https://www.healthline.com/health/beta-glucan-cancer
- Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, KY and Immuno-Oncology Program, Division of Immunotherapy, Department of Surgery, The James Graham Brown Cancer Center, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, KY. Geller, Anne, et. al. Yeast-derived β‐Glucan in Cancer: Novel Uses of a Traditional Therapeutic. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31344853/
- Department of Surgery, Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Thompson, I M, et. al. Immunotherapy of bladder carcinoma with glucan and cyclophosphamide. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3425579/
- GLH Nutrition. Talbott, Shawn M., et. al. β‐Glucan supplementation, allergy symptoms, and quality of life in self‐described ragweed allergy sufferers. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951572/
Department of Dietetics, Faculty of Human Nutrition and Consumer Sciences, Warsaw University of Life Sciences, Warsaw Poland. Zyla, Ewa, et. al. Beneficial Effects of Oat Beta-Glucan Dietary Supplementation in Colitis Depend on Its Molecular Weight. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6804032/