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A Look at the Powerful Benefits of Beta-D-Glucan

By October 21, 2020November 12th, 2021No Comments
Beta-D-Glucan

When it comes to incorporating medical mushrooms into your daily regimen, beta-d-glucan should be at the forefront of your mind. And that’s because mounting scientific evidence and research are undeniably in support of this powerful polysaccharide.  In fact, there are over 80 positive clinical studies supporting the use of beta-d-glucans. Some researchers are suggesting that its not if but when these compounds will be incorporated into pharmaceuticals.48

But how exactly can beta-d-glucan help you?

We’re going to take a look at what beta-d-glucan is, how it works with your biology – and more specifically, how it can  improve your overall immune response. We’ll dive into why medicinal mushrooms are the best source of beta-d-glucans, and how to ensure full therapeutic potential when taking them.

The information in this article has been reviewed by Dr. Mason Bresett, Naturopathic Doctor.

What Is Beta-D-Glucan?

To understand what beta-d-glucan is, let’s first explain what polysaccharides are. So, let’s get some basic vocab out of the way:

  • Polysaccharides are carbohydrate arrangements made up of a long simple sugar molecule chain.1 They act as a support for cells or tissues and are used as energy storage. Examples of common polysaccharides are cellulose, glucose, and fructose.
  • Beta-d-glucan is the most common polysaccharide found in the cell walls of mushrooms.
dried reishi

Beta-D-Glucans are located in the cell walls of mushrooms like these Reishi. We use a dual extraction method to create functional supplements with highly concentrated amounts of these bioactive compounds.

Beta-d-glucans are commonly regarded as being Biological Response Modifiers (BRMs).2 BRMs work by supporting the immune system to turn up or turn down. For example, BRMs can stimulate an increased immune response that in turn enables a more effective reaction for fighting off infections. In contrast, they can also turn down an overactive immune response via anti-inflammatory cytokine modulation.

Beta-d-glucan’s effect on the immune system isn’t consistent across all mushroom species. It’s dependent upon the beta-d-glucan shape, complexity, solubility, size, and extraction method.3,4,5 For this reason, it’s crucial that the levels of beta-d-glucans are scientifically validated in your mushroom products as opposed to overall polysaccharide content because not all mushroom supplements are created equal. We suggest you pay close attention to the labels of the mushroom products so you get the highest quality product (more on this later).

How Beta-D-Glucan Works Inside Your Body

To understand how beta-d-glucan works, we’re first going to take a step back to explain how innate and adaptive immunity works in relation to beta-d-glucans. Innate immunity is your body’s first line of defense against foreign invaders, such as bacteria or viruses.6 A few examples of innate immunity in action are your skin, cilia (hair-like projections) in your respiratory tract, eyelashes, and chemicals in your blood. It helps to think of innate immunity as a rudimentary immune response compared to adaptive immunity which is a more refined, sophisticated immune response that kicks in when innate immunity needs support.

Pattern-recognition receptors (PRRs) are proteins in your immune system that recognize pathogen molecules called pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs).7 The beta-d-glucans in mushrooms are thought to be PAMPs that affect your immune cells.8

Upon ingestion of beta-d-glucan, your intestines absorb it and it binds to fungal receptors on immune cells that break it down to smaller polysaccharides.9 You even have immune cells in your body that have polysaccharide-specific receptors. Then, these move to the spleen, bone marrow, and lymph tissues. There, the broken-down beta-d-glucan can enhance the natural (NK) killer cells and other immune-system cells’ ability to direct resources toward or away from a specific location.10,11,12

Beta D Glucan

The cell walls of mushrooms contain glucose molecules bonded in a linear chain that don’t break down into glucose in your digestive system like alpha glucans (found in starches) do. They interact with the bacteria lining in your gut, and interact with your local immune cells. The (1,3)-(1-6) branching chains make fungal beta-d-glucans suitable for binding to immune system cells and triggering innate and adaptive immune responses.

Dectin-1

One of the important polysaccharide receptors to note is Dectin-1. The unique (1,3)-(1-6) beta-d-glucan polysaccharide chain structure in mushrooms binds to Dectin-1. This can activate white blood cells, such as macrophages, granulocytes, and monocytes, which are responsible for defense against infections, and supports the repair of damaged tissues in the body.15 Therefore, beta-d-glucans can have an effect on the body’s process of neutralizing foreign pathogens, and they can support the processes of both innate and adaptive immunity.13,14,15

Beta-d-glucans stimulate dendritic cells also known as Antigen Presenting Cells (APC), these cells detect, engulf and then inform the adaptive immune system of an infection. Beta-d-glucans can modulate certain cytokines like (NK) cells, which can be supportive for preventing and treating certain immune conditions.16,17

And to think, this complex process is all happening without you even knowing it, yet without it, you’d be extremely susceptible to the variety of pathogens we encounter on a daily basis.

benefits of beta d glucan

Beta-D-Glucan binds to receptors in your immune system’s white blood cells, such as macrophages, and can stimulate them to help rid your body of pathogens such as invading bacteria (seen in red in the illustration).

Beta-D-Glucan Benefits

Beta-d-glucans can play an important role in the following:

  • Gut health
  • Infections
  • Immune regulation
  • Blood sugar and cholesterol regulation
  • Innate immunity
  • Adaptive immunity

As you can see, beta-d-glucans may influence the effectiveness of your immune responses. So now let’s take a look at how they can target specific areas of your body to boost your gut health, the immune system, the metabolic system, and be used in adjunct oncology treatments.

Microbiome

Your microbiome is made up of the microbes that live inside your gut, and an imbalance can lead to an overgrowth of potentially harmful microorganisms. This overgrowth can disrupt the natural processes of your mind and body. Beta-d-glucans influence your microbiome by:

  • Acting as prebiotics (food for the good bacteria in your gut)18
  • Affecting the growth of bacteria species
  • Improving biomarkers related to the gut microbiota, immune, and health such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)19
  • This increase in SCFAs may support healthy cholesterol levels and decrease inflammation.20

“Beta-d-glucans can have a positive impact on the microbiome and gut health through their prebiotic and immune-regulator properties” –Dr. Mason Bresett ND

You can potentially tap into that benefit by regularly taking top-grade mushroom supplements.

Microbiome and the Immune System

A healthy microbiome is a foundation for a healthy immune system, leading to the maturation of immune cells.21 For example, IgA, an immunoglobulin responsible for mucosal immunity, springs into action because of the presence of bacteria in your gastrointestinal system.22

Certain bacteria in your gut even release microbe-associated molecular patterns (MAMPs) which help your immune system develop a tolerance to the bacteria present in your microbiome. This means your body won’t try to fight off these healthy microorganisms.23, 24,25

Obesity and metabolic diseases are being correlated with changes in gut structure, metabolic health and gene expression in dysbiosis (altered gut microbiome) animal models. Specifically, protein-bound beta-d-glucans from Turkey Tail mushrooms can increase the abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila, a bacteria thought to be involved in weight gain and metabolic health.51

Your gut bacteria help build a robust immune system that affects the way your entire body is able to fight infections. Quality mushroom supplements with high levels of beta-glucans and other beneficial compounds can help turn the key when it comes to unlocking the full potential of your immune system.

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Infections

There are two clinical trials from Harvard Medical school that show consumption of 2 grams of beta-glucans can help prevent post-surgical infections.49, 50

Irritable Bowel DIsease (IBD) consists of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Animal models show that beta-d-glucans from oyster mushrooms were able to decrease intestine-induced inflammatory damages in mice with IBD. 52

Beta-glucans in Oyster mushrooms have been shown to decrease respiratory infections in children, athletes and those with COPD. 55, 56, 57, 58

Metabolic System

There is no shortage of data showing the importance of obtaining adequate fiber in our diet. Beta-glucans and medicinal mushrooms provide soluble and insoluble fiber that can support blood sugar and cholesterol regulation. These fibers can combine with water to slow absorption time, improve digestion, modulate blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. It is important to note that when using beta-glucans for modulating cholesterol levels, higher doses are often needed.45, 46

Consuming beta-glucans at mealtimes or when consuming simple or fast-digesting carbohydrates is a dosing strategy to consider for metabolic support. Fibers and beta-glucans have anti-inflammatory properties that can limit inflammation in your body.47 Inflammation is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome and other cardiovascular diseases. By supporting metabolic health with increased therapeutic fiber intake from medicinal mushrooms, individuals can also expect synergistic actions of medicinal mushrooms like immune support.

Immune and Integrative Therapy Support

The beta-d-glucans found in medicinal mushrooms can be used as an additional supplementation for those undergoing treatments for immune-related conditions and other chronic diseases. This is because the effect of a healthy microbiome may lead to improved immunological responses that affect pathogens and physiological processes like autophagy and free radical suppression.26,27 Moreover, beta-d-glucans may increase the effectiveness of chemo or radiotherapy treatments and may increase quality of life for those affected by malignant conditions. Beta-glucans have the potential to stimulate immune function via increasing hematopoiesis (increased white blood cells, platelets and hemoglobin).44

Modern oncology treatments are using monoclonal antibody therapies with beta-glucan polymer medications to target immune response. The beta-glucan polymer (Imprime glucan plus) is a Dectin-1 agonist – the same receptor that beta-d-glucans from mushrooms are theorized to interact with.53 A beta-glucan derived from Maitake mushrooms shows enhanced neutrophil and monocyte function in small-study myelodysplastic syndrome patients.54 Cancer supportive actions of medicinal mushrooms require thymus-dependent T cell activity. Free and protein-bound glucans are the two compounds studied most in humans, the latter being more effective.59

Adaptive Immunity

The adaptive immune system has two branches: humoral and cellular. Cellular involves T cells and humoral involves B cells (memory). Beta-d-glucans may enhance cellular immunity which can increase NK cells, CD8+ T cells and tumoricidal macrophages modulation – all linked to killing tumor cells.17 More research is needed in this field focusing on specific conditions and applications. Beta-d-glucans increase IL-2, IL-12 and IFN-Y which are supportive adaptive immunity cells.17 Medicinal mushroom peptide-polysaccharide extracts are thought to be Programmed Death 1 (PD-1) inhibitors that modulate T cells in response. In addition to CD8+ cells, beta-glucans can stimulate CD4+ and B lymphocytes – key players in the adaptive immune system.

With that said, it’s no surprise that integrative medicine is using the beta-d-glucans in medicinal mushrooms.28 Overall, medical mushrooms’ beneficial compounds, such as beta-d-glucans, may enhance an unresponsive or weakened immune system.29,30

What Are the Sources of Beta-D-Glucan?

Beta-d-glucans are found in certain foods and are abundant in medicinal mushrooms and their extracts, such as Real Mushrooms products.31 Medicinal mushroom types include:

  • Cordyceps contains beta-d-glucans which can aid with inflammation32
  • Turkey Tail contains beta-d-glucans which can be used in adjunct cancer treatments and promote a healthy microbiome and increase SCFAs33, 34
  • Shiitake contains beta-d-glucans that can enhance immunity, adjuncts therapy treatments, and promote a healthy microbiome35,36,37
  • Reishi contains beta-d-glucans that may regulate body weight, insulin resistance, inflammatory markers, and can support regenerative sleep38,39

Other foods that contain beta-d-glucan include:

  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Algae
  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Yeasts
  • Seaweed

foods containing beta d glucan

However, the beta-d-glucans in mushrooms have unique and advantageous properties.

It’s important to take note that the beta-d-glucans found in medicinal mushrooms have a higher molecular weight and shape complexity versus that of the grains listed above.

Cereal beta-glucans typically have 1-3,1-4 branching whereas fungi have 1-3,1-6 branching. This small molecular difference is why fungal beta-glucans show so much more activity. Not only do medicinal mushrooms host the beneficial properties of the 1-3,1-6 polysaccharide branches but they also contain beneficial secondary bioactive compounds like triterpenes, ergothioneine, and other complex sugar-protein molecules. For this reason, we suggest obtaining beta-d-glucans from medicinal mushrooms and more importantly, a medicinal mushroom supplement you trust.

Scientifically Verifying Beta-D-Glucan Levels

Here at Real Mushrooms, we’ve made it a priority to scientifically measure and analyze the beta-d-glucan levels in all our mushroom extracts. We do this using the Megazyme method which ensures accuracy. We guarantee the percentages in each of our medical mushroom products.

They are as follows:

Turkey Tail: >30%
Lion’s Mane: >25%
Cordyceps: >25%
5 Defenders: >20%
Reishi: >15%
Chaga: >8%

There are many ways the health practitioners are using beta-d-glucans therapeutically. They even have a long-standing record of use. Mushrooms must go through a specific hot water extraction method to reach full therapeutic potential. There are currently over 20,000 studies on beta-d-glucans in scientific databases and many patented health products containing beta-d-glucans from medicinal mushrooms.

However, not all mushroom extracts and supplements will actually use the mushroom (fruiting body) and some are filled with starch fillers. That is why it’s important to always check the label on your medicinal mushroom product to ensure it specifically states the beta-d-glucan percentages – and to also get more bang for your buck.

For instance, if a mushroom supplement has a high polysaccharide content but a low beta-d-glucan level, you’re not getting what you paid for.

medicinal mushrooms

In a research study that tested the beta-glucan content of various mushroom supplements on the market today, several products showed high alpha-glucan content but low beta-glucan content. While these products can tout high polysaccharide numbers, the majority of these polysaccharides are from in-active starches, not fungal beta-glucans. This comes down to the amount of starch filler in a product (thus the high alpha-glucan %) and whether the product uses the mushroom or its mycelium – the mushroom ultimately has more beta-glucans.42

Use Medicinal Mushrooms to Reach New Health Heights

As you can see, incorporating beta-d-glucan into your daily supplement regimen can be a great resource for your health. And lucky for you, it’s never been easier to get your hands on quality medicinal mushroom supplements.

But before you buy your mushroom extracts, here are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • Read the product’s Supplement Facts panel and attempt to distinguish the true contents of the product.
  • Select products that primarily contain the mushroom (fruiting body), not just mycelium,
  • Avoid buying products that lack specific information about the plant part of the fungi
  • Look for brands that list the beta-glucans content in their Supplement Facts panel. It’s important for it to be in the Supplement Facts panel and not just in marketing materials.
  • Ignore any polysaccharide numbers because polysaccharides also measure starches.
  • Check that the ingredients are organically grown.
  • Always choose a trusted source.

Head over to our Real Mushrooms shop and take advantage of the many health benefits, including beta-d-glucans, that our mushroom supplements have to offer. All of our products are organic, non-GMO, rigorously tested for purity, and contain no added grains or fillers – just pure mushroom goodness.

Take the reins of your health and see for yourself why our happy customers are raving about Real Mushrooms products!

Shop Mushrooms!

Mushrooms D2References:

Click to expand

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Real Mushrooms

Real Mushrooms

Real Mushrooms is the premier provider of organic mushroom extracts, verified for the beneficial medicinal compounds like beta-glucans and free from starchy fillers like grains. With over 40 years of mushroom growing experience, Real Mushrooms prides itself on providing a transparent source of medicinal mushrooms that you can trust. All the information provided on our blog has been reviewed by our science and medical team.