Beta 1,3 Glucan May Protect Against Anthrax

In the midst of an increasing threat of bioterrorism, researchers have found that the yeast beta 1,3 glucan can increase the survival of mice exposed to anthrax.

Researchers administered beta glucan by subcutaneous injection to mice two days before the animals were exposed to anthrax. Beta glucan also was administered orally for seven days before exposure or in drinking water for 10 days after the animals were exposed to a lethal dose of Bacillus anthracis spores. The researchers compared the treated animals to a group of untreated controls.

A single injection of beta glucan given two days before exposure to anthrax significantly increased the survival rate of the infected mice, diminished the bacterial load in the lungs of the infected mice by 4 - 8 fold, and doubled the proportion of bacteria-free animals 10 days after exposure to anthrax. In mice given the oral beta glucan for one week prior to infection, survival increased from 50% to 100%. Administration of oral beta glucan for 10 days post-infection increased survival from 30% to 90%.

Beta glucan is thought to protect the body against bacteria because it can enhance the antibacterial activity of circulating immune cells. Beta glucan can increase the production of white blood cells in the bone marrow, resulting in higher levels of these immunity-enhancing cells in the body. This natural immune enhancer can activate macrophages and neutrophils, white blood cells that defend against bacterial, fungal and viral infections. Macrophages and neutrophils are the first immune cells to interact with anthrax, killing the bacterial spores that produce the lethal anthrax toxin.

The researchers concluded, These results demonstrate the potential for beta 1,3-glucan immune modulators to provide a significant degree of protection against anthrax, a potential biological warfare agent, in a mouse model of anthrax infection. Further studies are needed to optimize protection, evaluate activity in combination with other treatment options, demonstrate activity in a validated primate model of infection, and determine if protection is effective against other potential biological warfare agents.

This study suggests that beta 1,3 glucan may be an important addition to any anti-anthrax supplement arsenal.

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Kournikakis B, Mandeville R, Brousseau P, Ostroff G. Anthrax-Protective Effects of Yeast Beta1,3 Glucans. Medscape General Medicine. 2003; 5(1), available at


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