Immunomodulating Effects of Beta-Glucans and Their Use for Mold Sufferers
Many of the treatments we have written about previously for building immune resiliency and combatting the effects of mold- and environmentally-triggered illness have been recognizable, with names that most have heard of before. Beta-glucan, however, has received less attention. In fact, you may not have seen it mentioned before or been informed about how it may be helpful in recovery from environmental or other infectious causes of chronic illness. This is unfortunate, though, because beta-glucan is actually one of the most researched (there are over 6,000 published papers on its uses and effects in humans), effective, and well-tolerated immune-modulating interventions available. This article aims to bring this forgotten polysaccharide into the spotlight to describe what it is, how it works, and how it may be implemented in an existing treatment plan or into any health regimen to assist in the prevention of illness and disease.
What Are Beta-Glucans?
At first, when you hear what beta-glucans are, the knee jerk reaction might be one of puzzlement. Beta-glucans are actually sugars that are formed in the cell walls of yeast, fungi, bacteria, algae, and certain plants such as barley and oats. And yes, much of our conversation to date regarding diet, yeasts, and glutinous grains has been centered around why all of these should be avoided; so you may ask, “Why would you have me ingest something like this?” This is an understandable response, but there is an explanation as we look into exactly how these substances work when used medicinally in the body.
First, beta-glucans, while considered “sugars”, are quite different than simple sugars, such as sucrose, honey, cane sugar, or other sweeteners. By definition, sugar has to do with the arrangement of carbon atoms in a molecule and does not specifically just relate to sweet products. Beta-glucans are more complex in their structure and are polysaccharides, in fact, they are called β-D-glucose polysaccharides. The exact molecular structure depends on what the source of it is, and this source, whether yeast, bacteria, or algae, determines specifically how it may work in the human body.
One of the common uses of some beta-glucans, particularly those derived from oats and barley, is to lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Natural medicine practitioners also use sometimes incorporate them as a treatment for heart disease. These types of beta-glucans form a soluble fiber, which slows down the transit of foods in the intestinal tract, resulting in less rapid absorption of simple sugars from the diet. They also have a tendency to bind with cholesterol, thus lowering blood levels of lipids and blood sugar. With more controlled and stable blood sugar also comes increased satiety, so one tends to feel “full” more quickly, and eat less. (1)
Beta-Glucans, the Immune System, and Mold
For the purposes of this article, we are now going to shift our focus more to the immune-system-controlling properties beta-glucans exhibit, and how those properties may help in recovery from mold-related illness. Decades of studies have shown that beta-glucans act as immunomodulator agents, meaning they trigger a cascade of events that help to regulate the immune system, making it more efficient. Specifically, beta-glucans stimulate the activity of macrophages, which are versatile immune cells that identify, ingest, and demolish invading pathogens and stimulate other immune cells to attack. In mold-related illnesses and chronic candidiasis, being able to mount an effective defense against these invaders is part of helping the body become strong enough biochemically to protect, defend, and heal. (2)
Macrophages also release cytokines, chemicals that when secreted enable the immune cells to communicate with one another. We have discussed cytokines and some of their functions in previous articles and the takeaway may have been that they are always proinflammatory, (aka cytokine storm) but it certainly needs to be mentioned that this immune cell communication is of utmost importance in mounting a good defense as well. And, when immune activity is modulated properly, there are not the same physical effects as when cytokines are set in motion by infections, such as COVID, or by an ongoing and persistent exposure, such as mold toxins. Additionally, beta-glucans stimulate lethal white blood cells (lymphocytes) that bind to tumors and/or viruses and release chemicals to destroy them. (3)
As I hinted in the beginning of this article, studies on beta-glucans and immune system potentiation have been ongoing and in place for over 70 years; this is not a new discovery with little research. Studies show that the most effective beta-glucan used for immune purposes is extracted from the yeast cell wall (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae) as Beta 1,3/1,6 glucan. In addition to its properties in immune system modulation, it has powerful antioxidant attributes as well. In other words, it can scavenge the free radicals created in the body from toxins, exposures, and illness that can lead to “rusting” of functions and organs.
Common Questions About the Use of Beta-Glucans
A few questions that have been asked about beta-glucans are certainly worthy of explanation and answers. One that has arisen frequently has to do with the fact that the aforementioned beta-glucan for immune regulation is from derived from yeast.
1. “ What if I am allergic to yeast; can I take this?”
If the glucans are properly extracted from the yeast, then yes, you can take it. The proteins on yeast that are responsible for allergy are located on the exterior surface of the yeast cells and are completely removed during the process of taking out the beta-glucan. Once again, though, we must remember that the source of any nutritional product needs to be pure, and third-party certified as to the truth in labeling and processing. For that particular reason, I like the Beta Glucans product from Micro Balance. It is formulated with third-party tested and researched beta-glucan studied and proven to be pure and effective. In fact, Beta Glucans is formulated with Wellmune WGP®, the most well-researched, single beta-glucan, proven in human clinical trials to prepare and protect the immune system from repeated and ongoing stressors. Wellmune® WGP is standardized to contain 75% pure beta-glucan. (4)
2. Are there drug, nutrient, or pharmaceutical interactions with beta-glucan supplements?
There are none that have been reported, and this is after many decades of research. This is a definite plus for most chronic illness sufferers as many are on multiple supplements and pharmaceutical therapies already.
3. Could beta-glucan use cause overstimulation of the immune system? And, is it safe to use if there is an autoimmune illness present?
The immune response of beta-glucan does not occur until a macrophage ingests a mold, virus, or bacteria, and then initials the immune response. What this means is that the response is very specific to the organism, making hyperactivity of the immune system unlikely.
4. If physical or emotional stress have suppressed the immune system, then how can beta-glucans help?
Stress causes increases in the production of cortisol from the adrenal system. This can reduce the number of macrophages and their activity, thus suppressing the immune system. Beta-glucan helps to increase the number of macrophages as well as their activation. In other words, during times of stress, it may be helpful to take beta-glucan prophylactically to protect your body from illness or infection.
5. Does beta-glucan work well with other substances for health and healing?
There are many studies that show that beta-glucan when combined with other substances, particularly antifungals, can potentiate healing and the combination is stronger than either agent working alone. Also, when used with the homeopathic product, Sinus Defense, a product designed to “teach” the immune system how to eliminate mold from the body, since most mold sufferers due to genetics have trouble with this, the addition of beta-glucan increases its effectiveness because more macrophages are present to efficiently destroy any environmental pathogens that your body is working to defeat. The activated macrophages are veritable powerhouses for healing and are particularly adept at removing foreign debris, such as fungal antigens. Clearly, if you are dealing with a fungal overgrowth in your body, stimulating your macrophages will speed up your body’s elimination process and help you to heal faster.
6. Does Beta Glucan help cancer patients?
In the 1970s, Dr. Peter Mansell conducted studies in which beta-glucan was injected into the nodules of malignant melanoma. Biopsies done after these injections found no melanoma, only the activated macrophages (1975, Journal of the National Cancer Institute). Research continues in this area, and another finding is that beta-glucan has helped to promote immunocytes in the bone marrow which become depleted by cancer. There is still much to learn but beta-glucan appears to be one of those “nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain” sort of additions to treatment.
7. How/When should mold-injured patients use beta-glucan?
If you have already addressed the necessity of cleaning your air and environment–eliminating exposure as much as possible is the MOST IMPORTANT piece of healing, you are eating a clean diet, and you are addressing detoxification and pathogens such as yeasts and opportunistic bacteria, then the addition of beta-glucan to your regimen may give much-needed efficiency to your immune system. It is one of those things that can be helpful on some level to just about anybody, and the turning point for others in their quest for health and recovery!
To read more about ongoing work with Beta Glucan research, the website betaglucan.org is a noncommercial entity, which promotes knowledge about the use of this substance. As it points out as mentioned above, the quality and purity of the product absolutely matter!
Ubiparip Z, De Doncker M, Beerens K, Franceus J, Desmet T. β-Glucan phosphorylases in carbohydrate synthesis. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2021 May;105(10):4073-4087. doi: 10.1007/s00253-021-11320-z. Epub 2021 May 10. PMID: 33970317; PMCID: PMC8140972.
Akramiene D, Kondrotas A, Didziapetriene J, Kevelaitis E. Effects of beta-glucans on the immune system. Medicina (Kaunas). 2007;43(8):597-606. PMID: 17895634.
Vannucci L, Krizan J, Sima P, Stakheev D, Caja F, Rajsiglova L, Horak V, Saieh M. Immunostimulatory properties and antitumor activities of glucans (Review). Int J Oncol. 2013 Aug;43(2):357-64. doi: 10.3892/ijo.2013.1974. Epub 2013 Jun 5. PMID: 23739801; PMCID: PMC3775562.
K. C. Carpenter, W. L. Breslin, T. Davidson, A. Adams, and B.K. McFarlin. Baker’s yeast β-glucan supplementation increases monocytes and cytokines post-exercise: implications for infection risk? 21 May 2012 by Wellmune in Clinical Research, Research. British Journal of Nutrition, FirstView Article: pp 1-9.