I was reading much this week on a supplement called Beta-glucan which is a fiber (a kind of polysaccharide) derived from the cell walls of algae, bacteria, fungi, yeast, and plants. What really made me take note is that beta-glucan is known for being able to modulate and strengthen the immune system – pumping it up appropriately – and is being used by many as a supportive treatment of Lyme disease, other chronic illnesses and even cancer as it has been shown to have anti-tumor effects. It is also not some far out supplement with only bits of anecdotal evidence as to its effectiveness – there have been over 1,000 studies conducted showing its immunological effects over 60 years!
In Japan , the Health and Welfare Ministry — equivalent to the United States FDA — has approved three beta-glucans extracted from mushrooms as anti-cancer drugs. These beta-glucans are Lentinan, derived from Shiitake (Lentinus edodes); Schizophyllan (SPG, Sonifilan), derived from Suehirotake (Scbizophyllum commune); and PSK (Krestin), derived from Kawaratake (Coriolus versicolor). Lentinan and schizophyllan are pure beta-glucans, whereas PSK is a protein-bound beta-glucan.  Beta-glucans from mushrooms are identified as biological response modifiers (BRMs) that stimulate the immune system. BRMs have been defined as those agents that modify the host’s biological response by a stimulation of the immune system, which may result in various therapeutic effects.
How Beta-Glucan Works In The Immune System
Beta-glucan works by stimulating the immune system response to keep immune cells in a heightened state of vigilance against invaders (bacteria, viruses, foreign substances). Beta-glucan activates B-lymphocytes, and interacts with macrophages through beta-glucan receptors on macrophages, thereby inducing release of cytokines. Cytokines are proteins produced by the immune system, lymphocytes and monocytes (which include macrophages), to regulate cellular processes such as proliferation and differentiation. Cytokines include interleukins, interferons, natural killer cells (NK cells), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). NK cells are responsible for destroying cancer cells and other potentially harmful cells. Macrophages (from the Greek macro, large; and phagein, to eat) are large white blood cells capable of trapping and engulfing foreign substances. Lymphocytes are special types of white cells, such as T cells. T-cells have the ability to stimulate other cellular components of the immune system to kill or neutralize invading bacteria and viruses, and have the ability to fight cancer.
Further explanation of its possible benefits from: Chronic Lyme Disease
There are numerous natural sources of beta glucan, the most potent of which is an extract from the cell wall of a type of baker’s yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Many types of mushrooms also contain beta glucan, and, as you will read further down in this article, the many benefits of mushroom supplements are in part due to their beta glucan content. When properly extracted, harmful parts of the yeast (such as that to which many people are allergic) are left behind, and only the beta glucan is extracted.
So what exactly does beta glucan do? It has numerous effects:
Beta glucan is an antioxidant.
Beta glucan is an immunomodulator, meaning that, in addition to upregulating (stimulating) the immune system, it also downregulates functions of the immune system which may be hyperactive. With Lyme Disease, this is very important because Lyme Disease often involves excessive and non-productive inflammation. Beta glucan supplements can calm this excessive immune activity.
Beta glucan activates immune system cells known as macrophages, which are large white cells that play a critical role in healthy immune function. According to Trevor Marshall, Ph.D., inventor of the Marshall Protocol, cell wall deficient Lyme Disease bacteria can actually invade macrophages and colonize them. Not only does Lyme Disease bacteria shut down macrophages, it goes one step further and invades the cell to use as a safe harbor. Talk about a survival-capable bacteria! Beta glucan’s ability to strengthen and activate macrophages can play a very important role in Lyme Disease treatment. In addition to fighting Lyme Disease, macrophages are critical to combating many different types of illnesses, including cancer. According to Dr. Kenneth Hunter from the University of Nevada school of medicine, “macrophages are one of the most important cells in the immune system to kill cancer tumors.”
Experiments have shown that beta glucan also fights candida and has direct antifungal effects.
To read about the many benefits of beta glucan, simply point your web browser to http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez and search for “beta glucan” (make sure you use the quotation marks in your search).
With regard to Lyme Disease, the reason to use beta glucan supplements is simply that they have proven, through the experiences of Lyme Disease sufferers, to accelerate healing and reduce symptoms.
http://alternativecancer.us/betaglucan.htm (also covers suggested daily dose)
**How to take beta glucans:**
There are many kinds of Beta Glucan (soluble vs. insoluble) and then there is the issue of where the Glucan is harvested. I have read that it is best to take a beta glucans supplement first thing in the morning with water and wait at least 15 minutes to eat or drink anything else so that you get maximum absorption. A supplement company I like, NowFoods, has a beta glucans supplement that has tremendous positive reviews and it derived from both Bakers’ yeast and Maitake mushrooms: “Now Beta-1,3/1,6-D-Glucan (Beta-Glucan) is a bioactive carbohydrate derived from the cell wall of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, commonly known as Bakers’ yeast. Scientific studies have shown that Beta-Glucan supports immune function through its ability to stimulate macrophage activity. Now Beta-Glucan is blended into a synergistic base of Maitake Mushrooms for added power.”