A scientific review of the role of beta glucans in immune health has highlighted their benefits for groups of healthy populations that have increased risk of respiratory infections.
There is growing evidence that supplementing with beta glucans from yeast and fungi can support the body’s natural defenses. The review, published in the Molecular Nutrition & Food Research Journal, focuses on their mechanism of action as immunomodulators, exploring the theory that they “train” the body’s immune cells, triggering changes that help fight off pathogens.
The paper also evaluates clinical trials on the benefits of supplementing with beta glucans. The best-studied beta glucan supplement ingredient, and the one that has demonstrated the best results, is Wellmune®, a leading natural yeast beta glucan from Kerry.
The review highlights several clinically supported studies providing evidence of Wellmune’s ability to support overall immune health in a range of healthy populations, including children, athletes and people with mild allergies.
A Chinese study, which was published in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences, where Meng observed that children supplementing with Wellmune were significantly healthier during the cold and flu season. Wellmune was reported to decrease the incidence and duration of common colds by 66% compared to a placebo group.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics, where Li et al. observed that children consuming follow-up formula fortified with Wellmune experienced a significant decrease in the incidence and duration of acute respiratory infection compared with those who were given an unfortified milk beverage.
A clinical study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, where Carpenter et al. observed that Wellmune significantly reduced the drop in T cells and monocytes commonly seen after an intense exercise session.
A randomized trial published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, where McFarlin et al. observed a significant decrease in post-marathon URTI symptomatic days among runners who supplemented with Wellmune.
A study published in Food Science & Nutrition by Talbott observing supplementation with Wellmune can reduce ragweed allergy symptoms, and alleviate symptom severity.
The authors of the review include Philip Calder, Professor of Nutritional Immunology at the University of Southampton, and Helen Roche, Associate Professor of Nutrigenomics at University College Dublin. Although they say the balance of evidence points to the immune-enhancing effects of beta glucans from baker’s yeast, they also highlight the need for further research.
John Quilter, VP & General Manager at Kerry, said: “The portfolio of human clinical research demonstrating Wellmune’s efficacy has long made it a ‘hero ingredient’ for immune support. This review pulls together all those clinical studies and demonstrates the sheer depth of evidence that supports Wellmune. However, there is much we still don’t know, which is why we are committed to continuing research, both into the mechanism of action of beta glucans, and their benefits for immune health.”
The paper also highlights the fact that structural differences between different forms of beta glucan may have an impact on their benefits and efficacy.
John Quilter added: “Each beta glucan source has a different structure determining its biological activity. While there is a wealth of clinical research supporting the safety, efficacy and benefits of beta glucans, it is crucial to use the right processing methods for extraction. If the beta glucan’s structure is damaged or altered during the manufacturing process, there can be a loss of efficacy.”
View the full paper (de Marco Castro EM, PC Calder and HM Roche (2020) ‘ß-1,3/1,6-glucans and Immunity: State of the Art and Future Directions’, Molecular Nutrition and Food Research) at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/mnfr.201901071
 Meng F. (2016) Baker’s Yeast Beta-Glucan Decreases Episodes of Common Childhood Illness In 1 to 4 Year Old Children during Cold Season in China. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences 6:518.
 Li F, Jin X, Liu B, Zhuang W, Scalabrin D. (2014) Follow-up Formula Consumption in 3- to 4-Year-Olds and Respiratory Infections: An RCT. Pediatrics 133:e1533-40.
 Carpenter, K. C., Breslin, W. L., Davidson, T., Adams, A., McFarlin, B. K., (2013) Baker’s yeast beta glucan supplementation increases monocytes and cytokines post-exercise: implications for infection risk? British Journal of Nutrition 109: 478-486.
 McFarlin, B. K., Carpenter, K. C., Davidson, T., McFarlin, M. A.,(2013) Baker’s yeast beta glucan supplementation increases salivary IgA and decreases cold/flu symptomatic days after intense exercise. Journal of Dietary Supplements 10:171-183.
 Talbott, S. M., Talbott, J. A., Talbott, T. L., Dingler, E., (2013) ß-Glucan supplementation, allergy symptoms, and quality of life in self-described ragweed allergy sufferers. Food Science & Nutrition 1: 90-101.