Along with the colder weather, winter also brings an increase in colds, flus, and other infectious diseases. Respiratory illnesses are at particularly higher levels than normally seen this time of year. Respiratory tract infections are infections of part of the body that affect breathing, sinuses, throat, airway, and lungs. Prevention is a great way to avoid the suffering coupled with acquiring one of these seasonal illnesses and that involves strengthening our defences, namely, ensuring we have a well functioning immune system. Thankfully, a little know polysaccharide (carbohydrate molecule) called Beta-Glucans which can be found in high concentrations in mushrooms, can be a very helpful tool in helping us avoid illness and respiratory tract infections.


What are beta-glucans?
Beta-glucans are a type of fiber found in the cell walls of certain yeasts, bacteria, fungi, algae, plants like oats, barley, wheat, rye, and mushrooms. Beta-glucans are a unique family of fibres that are biologically active, meaning they go beyond providing nutritional value and can impact body function. In the case of beta-glucans, they can positively impact immune function.


How do beta-glucans affect or immune system?
Beta-Glucans are believed to stimulate the immune system, modulating humoral and cellular immunity, and thereby have beneficial effects in fighting infectious diseases, such as bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic diseases. Beta-Glucans can stimulate specific receptors involved in immunoregulation. They improve the body’s immune system defence against foreign invaders by enhancing the ability of key immune cells such as macrophages, neutrophils, and natural killer cells. They also increase in production of salivary immunoglobulins, and improve in mucosal immunity in our airways and digestive tract.
They achieve this through their unique molecular structure which allows interaction with several cell surface receptors such as complement receptor 3 (CR3; CD11b/CD18), lactosylceramide, selected scavenger receptors, and dectin-1 (betaGR).Additionally, beta-glucans have high levels of antioxidants which reduce oxidative stress on the body as well as improve digestion and elimination through its fibre content and positive impact on healthy strains of intestinal bacteria.

What does the research say about beta-glucans effects on respiratory tract infections?
Several studies looking at children as young as 3 years of age show significant reduction in recurrent respiratory tract infections (RRTIs), and respiratory diseases such as laryngitis, common cold, bronchitis and pneumonia.
Beta-glucans have also been demonstrated to reduce upper respiratory tract infections and fatigue in marathon runners and high to moderately stressed adults.
Using beta-glucans in a preventative way may decrease the frequency of various forms of respiratory tract infection, support protective immune mechanisms, and possibly provide other beneficial effects such as increased well-being, decreased sick days and reduction in medication or antibiotic use.

Where to find Beta-glucans?
Not all supplements are created equal, and this couldn’t be more true for mushroom supplements.
The therapeutic polysaccharides in mushrooms (beta glucans) are found inside indigestible cell walls (made of chitin). Only when properly extracted can they maintain their structural integrity and be concentrated to therapeutically useful levels.

An extract is critical to guarantee bioavailability and to create the potency needed for therapeutic effectiveness.  The bulk of the mushroom supplements available in the U.S. and Canada are ground up mushrooms (un-extracted), put in capsules or tinctures. These supplements are significantly less potent than extracts used in clinical research needed to achieve a therapeutic response. Therefore, it is important to find mushroom supplements that have used the appropriate methods of extraction and are ideally not grown on grains, such as brown rice, which is common. A good quality health food store should have plenty of options to choose from. Additionally, mushroom fruiting body extracts offer a more potent and higher quality product than mycelium extracts. Concentrated fruiting body extracts contain more bioactive levels of beta-glucans and a wider array of nutritional components compared to the mycelium.


Best mushrooms for beta-glucans
• Reishi
• Cordyceps
• Chaga
• Lions Mane
• Turkey Tail
• Maitake


Best Brands
• Harmonic Arts
• Four Sigmatic
• Teelixir
• Host Defense
• Hybrid Herbs


Written by: Jared Cox


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