Beta-Glucan: Boot Camp for Immune Systems

Bakers' Yeast Formula for Clinical Performance

Beta-1,3-D glucan is a complex carbohydrate (i.e., comprised of sugar molecules) which has been demonstrated to have powerful immune-boosting and anticancer effects. Beta-glucan has been isolated from a variety of fungi such as shiitake (Lentinus edodes) and maitake (Grifola frondosa) mushrooms, (1) from yeast cell walls including brewers and bakers yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and from oat and barley bran. (2-4)

Beta-glucan enhances immunity through a number of mechanisms. It binds to white blood cells (phagocytes and macrophages) at specific receptor sites, and activates their infection and tumor-fighting activity by stimulating the production of free radicals. (5) This signals the white blood cells to engulf disease-causing tissues and micro-organisms, including bacteria, viruses and tumor cells. (6)

Beta-glucans immune-enhancing capability has demonstrated the ability to reduce the rate of postoperative infections that frequently complicate high-risk surgical procedures. In three multicenter, double-blind clinical trials, researchers evaluated the effects of beta-glucan on patients undergoing high-risk abdominal and thoracic surgery. Patients who received beta-glucan in doses ranging from 0.1 mg/kg to 2.0 mg/kg had significantly fewer postoperative infections compared to those treated with a placebo. (7-9) The investigators concluded that beta-glucan could potentially decrease life-threatening postoperative infections.

Beta-Glucan vs. Cancer
Beta-glucan also responds to tumor cells by stimulating the production of small protein substances within the phagocytic cells called cytokines. Cytokines stimulate the macrophages to inhibit tumor cell replication (cytostatic action) and kill the tumor (cytolytic action). (10)

Because of beta-glucans demonstrated ability to activate macrophages and T-cells, researchers have used it as an anti-cancer treatment by itself, or as a non-toxic adjuvant to chemotherapy. In studies of animals injected with tumor cells, researchers found that animals that were also treated with beta-glucan had decreased liver metastases compared with control animals. The beta-glucan-treated mice had a 28 percent increase in survival compared to those without beta-glucan. (11)

Although most research on beta-glucan has been done with animals, there have been a number of human studies. In 1975, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported on the anti-cancer effects of beta-glucan on nine cancer patients, who suffered from skin, breast, or lung cancer. Beta-glucan was injected directly into the tumors. In all cases, beta-glucan reduced the size of the tumor within five days, resulting from infiltration of immune cells into the cancerous area with subsequent destruction of the cancer cells. (12)

A number of clinical studies have been conducted in Japan with lentinan (a beta-1,3-1,6-glucan derived from the shiitake mushroom). Lentinan is considered a drug in Japan, where it is approved for clinical use. Japanese scientists have shown that treatment of advanced-cancer patients with lentinan, by intravenous injection, results in increased number and activity of immune killer cells (13) and prolonged survival -- sometimes in excess of five or more years. (14)

Other Clinical Uses
Although beta-glucan has been most widely tested and used as an immune-stimulating anti-cancer agent, it has also shown efficacy as an effective immune stimulant in a variety of infectious diseases (including anthrax), as well as a radioprotectant and anti-toxic substance.

VRPs beta-glucan has been exclusively derived from bakers yeast--identical to the substance that has been used in a number of clinical studies. Based on clinical and animal studies, beta-glucan is usually used in doses ranging from 30 to 1,000 mg/day, based on severity of the illness and clinical response.

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1. Mizuno T, et al. Antitumoractive substances from mushrooms. Food Rev Int 1995;11:23-6.

2. Tokunaka K, et al. Immunological and immunotoxicological activities of a water soluble 1-3 beta D glucan, CSBG, from a Candida spp. Int J Immunopharmacol 2000; 22:383-94.

3. Bacon J, et al. The glucan component of the cell wall of bakers yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) considered in relation to its ultrastructure. Biochem J 1969;114:557-67.

4. Baur SK, Geisler G. Variability of the beta-glucan content in oat caryopsis of 132 cultivated oat genotypes and 39 wild oat genotypes. J Agr Crop Sci 1996;176:151-7.

5. Adachi Y, et al. The effect enhancement of cytokine production by macrophages stimulated with 1,3 beta D glucan, grifolan, isolated from Grifola frondosa. Biol Pharm Bull 1994;17:1554-60.

6. Ohno N, et al. Effect of beta-glucan on the nitric oxide synthesis of peritoneal macrophage (sic) in mice. Biol Pharm Bull 1996;19:608-12.

7. Babineau TJ, et al. Randomized phase I/II trial of a macrophage-specific immunomodulator (PGG-glucan) in high-risk surgical patients. Ann Surg 1994;220:601-9.

8. Babineau TJ, et al. A phase II multicenter double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study of three dosages of an immunomodulator (PGG-glucan) in high-risk surgical patients. Arch Surg 1994;129:1204-10.

9. Dellinger EP, et al. Effect of PGG glucan on the rate of serious postoperative infection or death observed after high-risk gastrointestinal operations. Betafectin Gastrointestinal Study. Arch Surg 1999; 13:977-83.

10. Seljelid R, et al. A soluble beta 1,3 glucan derivative potentiates the cytostatic and cytolytic capacity of mouse peritoneal macrophages in vitro. Immunopharmacology 1984;7:69-73.

11. Williams DL, et al. Therapeutic efficacy of glucan in a murine model of hepatic metastatic disease. Hepatology 1985;5:198-206.

12. Mansell PW, et al. Macrophage www.ed destruction of human malignant cells in vivo. J Natl Cancer Inst 1975;54:571-80.

13. Matsuoka H, et al. Lentinan potentiates immunity and prolongs the survival time of some patients. Anticancer Res 1997;17:2251-55.

14. Nakano H, et al. A multi-institutional prospective study of lentinan in advanced gastric cancer patients with unresectable and recurrent disease: effects on prolongation of survival and improvement of quality of life. Kanagawa Research Group. Hepatogastroenterology 1999;46:2662-8.

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