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Beta Glucan Medical Summary

Dosage Range: Please consult a professional.

Active Forms: Beta-1, 3-D glucan with 1,6 glucan side chains, which are derived from yeast, and other fungal forms, including varieties of mushrooms. There are also glucans that occur in grains, such as oats and barley that are composed of a 1, 4-linked glucose molecule.

Quality Issues: Peer reviewed medical literature establishes that in order to be effective, beta glucan must have low fat and protein and must contain the proper glucan purity level and 1,3-D/1,6 molecular linkage. To review the documentation on what is considered a "text-book" perfect material click here.

Dosage Forms: Capsules, topical cream, and injectable Toxicities, Cautions, and Contraindications: Beta-1, 3-D glucan has been given a GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) rating by the FDA. Although side effects are rare, occasionally an allergic reaction is reported if a highly purified material is not used.[26]

Potential InteractionsDrug/Nutrient Interactions: None known

Nutrient/Nutrient Interactions: None known

Clinical Applications (conclusions of investigators) Cancer: Numerous studies report that beta-1, 3-D glucan has anti-tumor and anti-cancer activity.[1],[2] In one study, intralesional administration of beta-1, 3-D glucans resulted in rapid tumor shrinkage. [3] In another study with mice, beta-1, 3-D glucan in conjunction with interferon gamma (INF-gamma) inhibited both the establishment of tumors and liver metastasis.[4] In some studies, beta-1, 3-D glucans enhanced the effects of chemotherapy. In studies on bladder cancer with mice, administration of cyclophosphamide, in conjunction with beta-1, 3-D glucans derived from yeast resulted in reduced mortality.[5] In human patients with advanced gastric or colorectal cancer, the administration of beta-1, 3-D glucans derived from shiitake mushrooms, in conjunction with chemotherapy (mitomycin C + 5-Fluorouracil) resulted in prolonged survival times compared to a control group receiving identical chemotherapy.[6]

Elevated cholesterol: Beta-glucans appear to be the major cholesterol lowering agents in oat bran fiber. Studies reveal that soluble glucans in oat bran can lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels in patients with hypercholesterolemia.[7],[8] Similar cholesterol lowering effects are reported in studies where barley is the source of beta glucans.[9]

Prevention of infection: 41 patients with multiple trauma (but no infections) were admitted to a double-blind trial to receive beta-1, 3-D glucan or a placebo. 11 of 20 controls contracted pneumonia vs only 2 of 21 treated with beta-1, 3-D glucan. Sepsis developed in 35% of controls vs 9.5% of those treated with glucan; deaths due to infection and general mortality in controls was 30% and 42.1% compared to 4.8% and 23.5% in the beta-1, 3-D glucan-treated group.[10]

Radiation exposure: In animal experiments, therapy with beta-1, 3-D glucans reportedly enhances recovery after radiation exposure and results in improvements in the bone marrow, spleen and white blood count.[11],[12]

Septic shock: Toxins from either external or internal (infections) sources cause leukocytes to release pro-inflammatory cytokines that can produce a series of biochemical events that ends in septic shock. Administration of soluble beta-1, 3/1/6 glucans reduces the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, most notably Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), which reduced mortality.[13]

Surgery: In mice, treatment with beta-1, 3-D glucans either pre-or post-surgically reduced the production of nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappa B) and nuclear factor interleukin 6 (NF-IL6), which increased long-term survival approximately 40%.[14]

Wound healing: Macrophage activity is known to play a key role in wound healing from surgery or trauma. In both animal and human studies, therapy with beta glucan has provided improvements such as fewer infections, reduced mortality, and stronger tensile strength of scar tissue.

Glucans are long-chained polysaccharides that only contain glucose as structural components. Beta-1, 3-D glucans are chains of polysaccharides (complex glucose molecules), with the six-sided glucose rings connected at the 1 and 3 positions. Smaller side chains branch off the 1,3 polysaccharide backbone. The most active form of beta-1, 3-D glucans are apparently those that contain 1,6 side-chains branching off from the longer beta-1, 3-D glucan backbone. Sometimes you may see the expression of beta-1, 3-D glucan as 1, 3/1,6 glucan. Some researchers have suggested that it is the frequency, location, and length of the side-chains rather than the backbone of beta glucans that determine their immune system activity. Another variable found is the existence of single strand chains, while the backbones of other beta-1, 3-D glucans exist as double or triple stranded helix chains. Although these compounds have exciting potential for enhancement of the immune system, it must be emphasized that this research is in its infancy, and there are differing opinions on which molecular weight, shape, structure, and source of beta-1, 3-D glucans provide the greatest therapeutic benefit.

One of the most common sources of beta-1, 3-D glucans is derived from the cell walls of baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). However, some glucans are also extracted from the bran of some grains such as oats and barley. The beta-1, 3-D glucans from yeast are insoluble whereas the glucans extracted from grains and mushrooms tend to be soluble. Other sources include some types of seaweed[15], and various species of mushrooms such as Reishi, Shiitake, and Maitake.[16] Beta-1, 3-D glucans are being referred to as biological response modifiers (BRMs) because of their ability to potentiate (making ready) the immune system.[17] However, it should be noted that the activity of beta-1, 3-D glucans is different from agents that stimulate the immune system. Agents that stimulate the immune system can push the system to over-reactivity, and hence are contraindicated in individuals with autoimmune diseases. Beta-1, 3-D glucans seem to make the immune system work better without becoming overactive. They accomplish this by potentiating the macrophages, which are immune system cells whose function is to trap and destroy foreign substances in our bodies such as bacteria, virus, fungi, and parasites.[18] In addition to enhancing the activity of macrophages, beta-1, 3-D glucans also reportedly lower elevated LDL cholesterol, aid in wound healing, help prevent infections, and help in the prevention and treatment of cancer.

Functions in the Body Macrophage activity: Beta-1, 3-D glucans improve the body's immune system defense against foreign invaders by enhancing the ability of macrophages to respond to and fight a wide range of toxic substances such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.[19] Immune system activity: Beta-1, 3-D glucans also increase the production of cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor[20] and certain subsets of T-lymphocytes.[21] Although this research has been done in animals, the results suggest that beta-1, 3-D glucans enhance both non-specific host defense and cellular immune response. Lowers elevated cholesterol levels: Studies have reported that the beta glucans, found in grains such as oats and barley, are effective at lowering elevated total and LDL cholesterol levels.[22],[23] Beta-1, 3-D glucans do not occur naturally in humans, hence no deficiency condition exists.

Absorption: For best results, beta-1, 3-D glucans should be taken on an empty stomach. Enterocytes reportedly facilitate the transportation of beta-1, 3-D glucans and similar compounds across the intestinal cell wall into the lymph where they begin to interact with macrophages to activate immune function.[24] Radiolabeled studies have verified that both small and large fragments of beta glucans are found in the serum, which indicates they are absorbed from the intestinal tract.[25]

Dietary Sources: Although beta-1, 3-D glucans occurs in bakers yeast, grains such as oats and barley, and several types of mushrooms, they are not readily useable in their unpurified natural state. The indigestible cell walls of these substances must be processed in order to free up the beta-1, 3-D glucans and make them available for useful purposes. [26]

  1. Luzio N.R. Williams D.L. et al, Comparative evaluation of the tumor inhibitory and antibacterial activity of solubilized and particulate glucan, Recent Results Cancer Res 75:165-172. 1980.
  2. Morikawa K, Takeda R, Yamazaki M, et al., Induction of tumoricidal activity of polymorphonuclear leukocytes by a linear beta-1, 3-D-glucan and other immunomodulators in murine cells, Cancer Res. 1985 Apr; 45(4): 1496-501.
  3. Mansell PW, Ichinose H, Reed RJ, et al., "Macrophage-mediated destruction of human malignant cells in vivo," J Natl Cancer Inst. 1975 Mar; 54(3): 571-80.
  4. Sveinbjornsson B, Rushfeldt C, Seljelid R, et al., "Inhibition of establishment and growth of mouse liver metastases after treatment with interferon gamma and beta-1, 3-D-glucan," Hepatology. 1998 May; 27(5): 1241-8.
  5. Thompson IM, Spence CR, Lamm DL, et al., "Immunochemotherapy of bladder carcinoma with glucan and cyclophosphamide," Am J Med Sci. 1987 Nov; 294(5): 294-300.
  6. Wakui A, Kasai M, Konno K, et al., "Randomized study of lentinan on patients with advanced gastric and colorectal cancer. Tohoku Lentinan Study Group," Gan To Kagaku Ryoho. 1986 Apr; 13(4 Pt 1): 1050-9.
  7. Davidson MH; Dugan LD; Burns JH, et al., "The hypocholesterolemic effects of beta-glucan in oatmeal and oat bran. A dose-controlled study," JAMA, 1991 Apr 10, 265:14, 1833-9.
  8. Braaten JT, Wood PJ, Scott FW, et al., "Oat beta-glucan reduces blood cholesterol concentration in hypercholesterolemic subjects," Eur J Clin Nutr. 1994 Jul; 48(7): 465-74.
  9. McIntosh GH; Whyte J; McArthur R, et al., "Barley and wheat foods: influence on plasma cholesterol concentrations in hypercholesterolemic men," Am J Clin Nutr, 1991 May, 53:5, 1205-9.
  10. de Felippe Junior J, da Rocha e Silva Junior M, Maciel FM, et al., "Infection prevention in patients with severe multiple trauma with the immunomodulator beta 1-3 polyglucose (glucan)," Surg Gynecol Obstet. 1993 Oct; 177(4): 383-8.
  11. Patchen ML; DiLuzio NR; Jacques P, et al., "Soluble polyglycans enhance recovery from cobalt-60-induced hemopoietic injury," J Biol Response Mod, 1984 Dec, 3:6, 627-33.
  12. Petruczenko A, "Glucan effect on the survival of mice after radiation exposure," Acta Physiol Pol. 1984 May-Jun; 35(3): 231-6.
  13. Soltys J, Quinn MT, "Modulation of endotoxin- and enterotoxin-induced cytokine release by in vivo treatment with beta- (1,6)-branched beta- (1,3)-glucan," Infect Immun. 1999 Jan; 67(1): 244-52.
  14. Williams DL, Ha T, Li C, et al., "Inhibiting early activation of tissue nuclear factor-kappa B and nuclear factor interleukin 6 with (1-->3)-beta-D-glucan increases long-term survival in polymicrobial sepsis," Surgery. 1999 Jul; 126(1): 54-65.
  15. Teas J, "The dietary intake of Laminarin, a brown seaweed, and breast cancer prevention," Nutr Cancer. 1983; 4(3): 217-22.
  16. Wasser SP, Weis AL, "Therapeutic effects of substances occurring in higher Basidiomycetes mushrooms: a modern perspective," Crit Rev Immunol. 1999; 19(1): 65-96.
  17. Miura NN, Ohno N, Aketagawa J, et al., "Blood clearance of (1-->3)-beta-D-glucan in MRL lpr/lpr mice," FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 1996 Jan; 13(1): 51-57.
  18. Chihara G, "Recent progress in immunopharmacology and therapeutic effects of polysaccharides," Dev Biol Stand. 1992; 77:191-7.
  19. Czop JK, Valiante NM, Janusz MJ, "Phagocytosis of particulate activators of the human alternative complement pathway through monocyte beta-glucan receptors," Prog Clin Biol Res. 1989; 297:287-96.
  20. Seljelid R, Figenschau Y, Bogwald J, et al., "Evidence that tumor necrosis induced by aminated beta 1-3D polyglucose is mediated by a concerted action of local and systemic cytokines," Scand J Immunol. 1989 Dec; 30(6): 687-94.
  21. Bousquet M, Escoula L, Peuriere S, et al., "Immunopharmacologic study in mice of 2 beta-1, 3, beta-1, 6 polysaccharides (scleroglucan and PSAT) on the activation of macrophages and T lymphocytes," Ann Rech Vet. 1989; 20(2): 165-73.
  22. Onning G, Wallmark A, Persson M, et al., "Consumption of oat milk for 5 weeks lowers serum cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in free-living men with moderate hypercholesterolemia," Ann Nutr Metab. 1999; 43(5): 301-9.
  23. Behall KM, Scholfield DJ, Hallfrisch J, "Effect of beta-glucan level in oat fiber extracts on blood lipids in men and women," J Am Coll Nutr. 1997 Feb; 16(1): 46-51.
  24. Frey A; Giannasca KT; Weltzin R, t al., "Role of the glycocalyx in regulating access of microparticles to apical plasma membranes of intestinal epithelial cells: implications for microbial attachment and oral vaccine targeting," J Exp Med, 1996 Sep 1, 184:3, 1045-59.
  25. Tsukagoshi S, Hashimoto Y, Fujii G, et al., "Krestin (PSK)," Cancer Treat Rev, 1984 Jun, 11:2, 131-55.
  26. Jason C. Cooper, PharmD, Nannette Turcasso, PharmD., BCPS; "Immunostimulatory Effects of Beta-1, 3-glucan and Acemannan"; Medical University of South Carolina.