Beta glucan improves immune system

Beta glucans are being hailed as nature’s most effective immune system activator. A complex carbohydrate fibre, once ingested it primes your body’s innate defences to respond swiftly against viruses, bacteria, parasitic and fungal infections, meaning you suffer less and recover faster from illness.

What is peak immune system condition? Protective disease defences, faster recoveries and enhanced shielding from environmental hazards/radiation damage are all associated with a fully operational innate immune system. Yet how can we access a ‘supercharged’ degree of immune function?

We actually have two immune systems. The innate immune network, present from birth, is the fundamental system that provides the first line of defence against pathogens and general threats. This precedes our complementary adaptive, ‘memory’-based immune system which mounts responses to specific threats that it has encountered before, using antibodies and specialised cells (1).

Immune System


Figure 1 – Attention! Innate immune cells await a march order

The innate, nonspecific immune system is able to recognise and neutralise a broad range of foreign cells without ever having encountered them – no ‘training’ is required. However, the array of macrophages (vernacular: ‘white blood cells’) carry out their tasks of engulfing and destroying enemy bodies much more swiftly when activated by certain promoter molecules (2), in the same way a squad responds to a rallying cry.

A safe way of boosting the immune system

Make way for the new team leader: beta glucan. With a long history and large volume of research behind its many immune-boosting properties (3), there is excellent understanding of its biochemical behaviour and cellular interaction inside the body (4). Results across countless peer-reviewed journal articles show great promise for its immune-therapeutic potential (5; 6; 7; 8). Widely discussed and regarded with optimism as a potent biological response modifier [BRM], beta glucan is therefore a non-drug food supplement which nutritionally activates macrophage members of the immune system family such as neutrophils, natural killer [NK] cells and monocytes. (9).

To create an analogy, receptors located on the surface of white blood cells accept beta glucan molecules of a specific size and shape, as a key fits in a lock. The process that follows is much like a tripwire being activated, triggering an alarm. Cells belonging to the immune system family respond to this ‘call-to-arms’ by up-rating their activity, working harder and faster to remove intruders from your body.

beta glucan activates macrophage receptors

Figure 2 – ‘Switched on’ – beta glucan activates macrophage receptors

Importantly, beta glucan is an immunomodulator rather than an immune system stimulator. The distinction is vitally important. By using immune stimulates, one runs the risk of increasing sensitivity to auto-immune diseases. As Webster Kehr of the Independent Cancer Research Foundation describes it:

“The term immunomodulator here is the real key; it is not an immune stimulate. Immune stimulation presumably occurs with substances like Echinacea and Colostrum. Beta glucan modulates or activates but never over-stimulates, which is key to the safety of this product” (10).

A wide range of potential uses

A myriad of phenomena have been observed across the scientific literature in experiments with beta glucan, though we see a pattern of four general modifications to immune system function as expressed in Table 1 below.

Table 1 – Four key immune responses stimulated by beta glucan

Immune response Beneficial implication
Production of white blood cells (11) Bone marrow readily and quickly synthesises macrophages (hematopoesis)
Cellular mobilization (12) Assists immune system cells in recognizing antigens and moving to area of high demand (chemotaxis)
Phagocytic capacity (13) Augments engulfing capacity of non-self cells and alerts T-cells of anti-microbial presence
Production of reactive oxygen intermediates [ROIs] (14) Engages oxidative burst mechanisms such as inducible nitric oxide synthase (NOS) which attack and destroy invading cells

Size – and shape – matters!

The shape and structure of beta glucan is crucial to eliciting the optimum response, thus introducing a ‘best-fit’ key in the receptor unlocks maximum potential, biochemically speaking. As highlighted by Chan et al in their 2009 paper, “beta-glucans of different sizes and branching patterns may have significantly variable immune potency” (15).

Currently the subject of much immunological and nutritional focus, the 1-3,1-6-β-glucan complex is responsible for activating macrophages much like a supercharger to the immune engine, performing better than other isolates and configurations (16). 1-3, 1-6 beta glucan is extracted from the cell walls of baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), producing a safe and natural isolate with no known adverse side effects or toxicity and classified as G.R.A.S. (Generally Recognised As Safe) by the United States F.D.A. (17).

1,3 1,6 Beta glucan structure

Figure 3 – The 3-D biochemical structure of 1-3, 1-6 beta glucan is critical to eliciting optimum immune response

More is not always better! In its most effective composition, microparticulate, non-aggregated beta glucan is superior as an immune potentiator isolate (18). Translation: it’s like weighing out and sifting the correct amount of flour before baking a cake – a better final result is achieved due to precise measurement and minimal clumping of a key ingredient.

To reach its target site efficiently, research now indicates beta glucan ought to be graded by the manufacturer to particles 1-2 microns in size and prepared at a dose of 10-100mg, with a special processing step to prevent re-aggregation after oral ingestion (19). These dimensions match those of the macrophage receptor in question ensuring direct binding, whilst knowing the ideal dose range avoids diminishing immunological effects of adding more beta glucan past a saturation threshold (20; 21).

We now know a great deal about the effects, structure and source of this immune potentiator. But where to begin the search? Beta glucan is obtainable from multiple biological sources, cropping up in a variety of natural foods such as oats, barley, shitake mushrooms, yeast, seaweed and algae – each of which yields a slightly different configuration of the desired molecule (22).

Many biotech firms have patented different extracts, but look no further than those containing Wellmune WGP™ 1-3, 1-6-beta glucan, designed and manufactured by Biothera Inc. Found in the UK in the ImmunoShield™ supplement, over £200 million of research and development backs Wellmune WGP™ with over 40 patents to protect its unique formula (23).

Nevertheless, don’t take my word for it: study the evidence yourself. Outlined in Table 2 are nine clinical trials in which taking Wellmune WGP™ beta glucan has demonstrated a suite of health benefits to individuals from a range of circumstances. Remember, our immune system’s function is not restricted to a limited season, place or scenario when pathogens attack us. It continuously fights infections and invasions, many of which are exacerbated by lifestyle choices. Athletes, workaholics and allergy-sufferers, take note: beta glucans might well be a broad-spectrum answer to protecting your body during those particularly demanding days.

Table 2 – A selection of Wellmune WGP clinical trials spanning different populations, situations and biomarkers
over the last 7 years

[sample size n]
Study type Headline result Published
Texas Marathon
Physical stress
Health effects
URTI symptoms
reduced by 40%
Journal of Dietary Supplements,
Exercise stress
Biomarkers Lower immune suppression after exercise (++ cytokine production) British Journal of Nutrition, 2012
Medical students
18% reduction in cold/flu symptoms Nutrition,
Lifestyle stress 90-day
Lifestyle stress
Health effects
58% URTI symptom decrease
9.5% increase well-being
Journal of American College of Nutrition, 2013
Lifestyle stress 28-day
Lifestyle stress
Health effects
42% increase in vigour
38% reduction in fatigue
19% reduction in tension
Agro Foods Industry Hi-Tech,
Allergic rhinitis
Health effects 27% reduction in symptoms
52% reduction in severity
Food Science & Nutrition,
California Marathon
Physical stress
Health effects
67% reduction in URTI
48% reduction in fatigue
38% reduction in confusion
Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 2009
Cold/Flu 90-day
Cold/Flu No missed work/school
No incidence of fever
Increased physical energy
Journal of Applied Research, 2009

These studies on the specific immune-boosting benefits of 1-3,1-6 beta glucans are supported by whole libraries of beta glucan literature. Beta glucans are referenced as adjuvants (co-treatments) for cancer, have been linked to reduction of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL), are posed to be used to help shrink Type II diabetes risk, and are implicated to improve blood sugar control for those already with the disease (24; 25; 26).

It’s time to wrap up with a bit of nutritional advice. If you are reading this in detail, the likelihood is your interest lies somewhere in enhancing your body’s existing capacity to shield itself against the relentless stream of threats found in today’s environment. When presenting a case for such a remarkable natural product that confers numerous, multifaceted benefits with negligible (if any) drawbacks, one must be hesitant to claim a ‘silver bullet’ solution to general illness. However, I will say this: 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans, and the Wellmune WGP formula in particular, exhibit unprecedented support to assist your immune system in reaching its full potential. Crank up the macrophages and get on with what matters!

Alexander S. Rose MSc

April 2015


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