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Can we give your immune system need a leg up?

Your Natural Immune Enhancers

With the current Covid-19 pandemic at large and the high potential of an ensuing bacterial secondary infection we need a new approach to protecting ourselves

The best way we can prevent and counteract bacterial infections is by supporting our innate immune system to avoid initial infections and also to fight off infections by destroying illness inducing bacteria.

Just to recap our Innate immunity is something already present in the body. Adaptive immunity is created in response to exposure to a foreign substance. Once activated against a specific type of antigen, the immunity remains throughout the life

This blog focuses primarily on the ability of specific polysaccharides, known as beta glucans, which are found in certain foods such as mushrooms, bakers yeast and oats, to support our immune function and therefore protect against these infections.

Firstly what is beta glucan?

These are complex molecules which occur in the cell walls of fungi and yeast. They come in different forms depending on the linkages between the monosaccharide molecules. The numbers quoted after beta glucans refer to which carbon in the sugar ring the bond is formed between. Research highlights that beta glucans with 1-3 and 1-6 linkages (referred to as beta glucan 1-3, 1-6), elicits the most potent effect on immune function when compared to other beta glucans with 1-3, 1-4 linkages (these latter are found in oats for example).

Beta glucan – how does it work?

Beta glucans are not made so in the body and therefore are recognised as foreign. The innate immune system recognises them as a potential pathogen, although they themselves do not possess the ability to cause an infection. The recognition of these specific molecules triggers the up-regulation of the immune system.

When they recognise a bacterial cell wall compound, for example a fungal wall compound such as a beta glucan 1-3, 1-6, they initiate an anti-microbial response involving elevated macrophage and dendritic cell activity Therefore beta glucans stimulate the body’s own antibiotic reaction and are able to activate the innate immune response.

After ingestion, beta glucan are taken up by macrophages in the gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) and are phagocytosed. Macrophages digest the beta glucan into smaller fragments and release these over time into the bloodstream. The fragments then attach to receptors on neutrophil granulocytes and natural killer (NK) cells, priming them and making them more active. Neutrophils are involved in killing bacteria, and the NK cells destroy both virally infected cells and cancer cells; leading to increased resistance to infection, and enhanced apoptosis of abnormal cells.

So adding 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans back into our diet stimulates our innate immune system and restores its normal function.

Improves our cardiac health

Several studies suggest that beta glucan may lower cholesterol and triglycerides. One found that eating oats with at least 3 g of beta glucan daily reduced bad cholesterol (LDL) levels between 5 and 7 percent.

Regulates blood sugar peaks and troughs

It may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. It may also improve blood sugar control for those who already have diabetes.

Further Support for the immune system:

Vitamin C – has multiple benefits for supporting immunity as it stimulates neutrophils and increases lymphocyte production, increases interferon production and has antioxidant and antihistamine properties. Vitamin C is found in fruits, particularly berries and dark leafy green vegetables.

Zinc – improves cell-mediated immunity by increasing production of T-lymphocytes and regulating the function of white blood cells. Zinc can be found in meat, eggs, wholegrains and pumpkin seeds.

Vitamin D – is known to support healthy immune function and has been shown to be deficient in the majority of the population particularly over the winter months. Vitamin D can be made by the skin from sunlight and obtained from the diet although it can be difficult to get sufficient from dietary sources; vitamin D is found in oily fish, butter and eggs. Recent studies have shown the benefit of Vitamin D against the severity and sequelae of Covid-19.

Vitamin A – is important for the function of neutrophils, macrophages and natural killer cells. Deficiency impairs innate immunity by inhibiting the repair of mucosal barriers damaged by infection. Vitamin A is also required for adaptive immunity and plays a role in the development of both T helper (Th) cells and B cells. Oily fish and eggs are rich sources of vitamin A; orange and yellow vegetables provide beta-carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A in the body

Selenium – research has identified upregulation of both cell-mediated and humoral immune responses by increasing levels of selenium intake. Sources of selenium depend on the selenium content of soil and food but can be found in Brazil nuts, oily fish, eggs and seaweed.

Iron – iron has been shown to enhance immune function and is particularly important in children, teenagers and women of reproductive age, who have increased iron requirement due to growth or menstruation, as well as being especially relevant for people with anaemia.

Gut Health

The gut is home to 70% of our immune tissue, known as gut associated lymphoid tissue or GALT. GALT is comprised of lymphocytes in the mucosal epithelium and in the underlying connective tissue, mesenteric lymph nodes and Peyer’s patches. It is essential that such a large part of the immune system resides here as the lumen of the gut is in effect replicating the external environment. The lumen is separated from the GALT by a single layer of epithelial cells which are infiltrated by B cells, T cells, macrophages, dendritic cells and M cells, all poised to ward off infection. It is also important to consider the microbiome which play an essential role in supporting and stimulating the immune system.

Maintaining adequate zinc levels, zinc is very important for the production of stomach acid as well as for maintenance of epithelial tissue which lines the digestive system prebiotic foods such as baked apples, chicory and artichoke

· eating fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi to support gut flora

· taking a multi-strain probiotic

· using digestive enzymes to improve nutrient digestion, if this is impaired

· increasing foods that support the liver such as brassicas, onions, garlic, rocket

So In Summary

  • 1-3, 1-6 beta glucan are polysaccharides found in the cell wall of yeast and other fungi.

  • 1-3, 1-6 beta glucan stimulate cells of our innate immune system, have anti-microbial properties and have therefore been shown to help support immune function.

  • Studies have shown that 1-3, 1-6 beta glucan are able to prevent and reduce infections in both healthy and susceptible individuals.

  • 1-3, 1-6 beta glucan also stimulate the acquired immune system and in doing so have demonstrated the ability to reduce atopic conditions such as allergies, eczema and asthma.

  • The health of the gut is essential for immune function as 70% of our immune tissue is found in the gut. Gut health is heavily influenced by the microbiota, therefore, supporting a good balance of microflora is essential for immune function.

  • Micronutrients which play specific roles in immune function include vitamins A, C and D and the minerals zinc, iron and selenium.

In my next blog read about how we can help boost your beta glucan levels


1. Stier H, Ebbeskotte V, Gruenwald J. Immune-modulatory effects of dietary Yeast Beta-1,3/1,6-D-glucan. Nutr J. 2014;13:38. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-38

2. Hong F, Hansen RD, Yan J, et al. Beta-glucan functions as an adjuvant for monoclonal antibody immunotherapy by recruiting tumoricidal granulocytes as killer cells. Cancer Res. 2003;63(24):9023-9031. Accessed November 1, 2018.

3. Inoue K, Takano H, Koike E, et al. Candida soluble cell wall β-glucan facilitates ovalbumin-induced allergic airway inflammation in mice: Possible role of antigen-presenting cells. Respir Res. 2009;10(1):68. doi:10.1186/1465-9921-10-68

4. Talbott S, Talbott J. Effect of BETA 1, 3/1, 6 GLUCAN on Upper Respiratory Tract Infection Symptoms and Mood State in Marathon Athletes. J Sports Sci Med. 2009;8(4):509-515. Accessed November 1, 2018.

5. Fuller R, Moore M V, Lewith G, et al. Yeast-derived β-1,3/1,6 glucan, upper respiratory tract infection and innate immunity in older adults. Nutrition. 2017;39-40:30-35. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2017.03.003

6. Auinger A, Riede L, Bothe G, Busch R, Gruenwald J. Yeast (1,3)-(1,6)-beta-glucan helps to maintain the body’s defence against pathogens: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicentric study in healthy subjects. Eur J Nutr. 2013;52(8):1913-1918. doi:10.1007/s00394-013-0492-z

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