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Beta glucan: can this “booster” knock your immune system off balance?

Posted Sep 15 2009 8:57pm

Beta glucans are highly refined carbohydrates known as polysaccharides found in the cell walls of yeast and in fungi (mushrooms) and balance certain plants. A good amount of science shows beta glucan, when ingested in the body, may function as an “immunostimulant,” activating “macrophages,” which are a specific kind of white blood cell. And we all know white blood cells are a key immune defense component in attacking pathogens that enter the body.

Research suggests beta glucans may play a role in cancer tumor suppression and in other health conditions where aggressive immune response is called for. So why am I bringing up beta glucans in this blog? Maybe it’s simply that such immune system stimulation kind of, maybe, perhaps, throws a wrench into the benefit of immune balance.  An executive team member at a client company passed along some studies showing beta glucan delivered in vitro (petri dish cells) may cause immune response fatigue, where immune cells’ repeated exposure to beta-glucan might actually diminish their assertive function. That kind of got me interested in reading more.

Read this from Web MD: “Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants) interact with BETA GLUCANS. Beta glucans increase the immune system. By increasing the immune system beta glucans might decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system.Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.”

“Do not take more than 15 grams per day by mouth and do not use it for longer than 8 weeks.”

In other words, beta glucan can counteract medications and other measures that people adopt to suppress immune response when needed. It’s kind of like all killer cells all the time, which, in the immune balance world, can be detrimental to overall health. Beta glucan might be helpful for concentrated seasonal defense, but I wonder about year-round use and the impact on other health areas when taking a direct immune stimulant every day.

See the video below for a basic overview of the immune system and some warnings on immune stimulation. Warning: he goes into some product pitch at the end, and I’m not at all familiar with it, so no, I don’t endorse it. But his commentary up front seems legit.

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