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Beta glucans are naturally-occurring polysaccharides or complex carbohydrates with many benefits. They stimulate the immune system by increasing chemicals and white blood cells, which prevent infections. They also lower down the blood cholesterol levels by absorbing cholesterol from the food in the stomach and intestines.
Some common sources of beta glucans are mushrooms, yeast, oats and barley. In fact, medicinal mushrooms, containing them have been used in the Eastern culture for centuries to boost immunity. In Japan, they have been used as an immune system stimulant against cancer since 1980.
Beta glucans are immunomodulatory compounds, which means they modulate or activate the immune system, but rarely over-stimulate it. They are known to increase the host immune defences by enhancing the natural killer cell function. Thus, they help immune cells to achieve a well-coordinated attack against pathogens and foreign bodies in the body. And this makes them an excellent immune system booster.
Beta glucans have the ability to lower the growth of the cancer cells, even while stimulating a stronger response from the immune system for protection against foreign bodies. When used along with chemotherapy, they have shown benefits in cancer patients. Research is scant but underway, to prove this in a thorough study. A patent filed by the University Of Louisville Research Foundation claims that beta glucans, when used along with monoclonal antibodies, can help in suppressing or eliminating cancer. Monoclonal antibodies are biological drugs used for the treatment of cancer.
Beta glucans are present in oats, which has long been considered a part of the diet of heart patients. In a study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture’s Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland, male and female participants with slightly higher cholesterol levels were given a regular dosage of oats (containing beta glucans). It was observed that their cholesterol levels reduced with regular intake of oats.
Effects of beta-glucans on the immune system.
Cancer therapy using beta glucan and antibodies
Effect of beta-glucan level in oat fiber extracts on blood lipids in men and women.