The immune system is a complicated intricate network that protects the body against exogenous or endogenous stressors, infections, cancer and other diseases. When the immune system becomes imbalanced, disease risk is increased. A weak or impaired immune system can predispose the body to infections, impaired healing and even cancer, while an over-exuberant immune system can result in allergies, immune-mediated diseases and, again, cancer. The majority of the immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract, therefore food, medications, etc. can affect systemic immunity. Maintaining an optimal immune system is critical to overall health.
Beta glucans are naturally-obtained high molecular weight polysaccharides that modulate the immune system, which is why they are known as “biological response modifiers”. They are found in various mushrooms; rice bran; plants including Poaceae (Gramineae) and Dioscoreaceae (yams); algae; seaweed; and cell walls of yeast.
Beta glucans help regulate the immune system by triggering a cascade of events that promote immune cell activation, and stimulate macrophages and lymphocytes to destroy target cells. They can also enhance overall activity of natural killer cells, T cells and B cells. Beta glucans have the ability to simultaneously stimulate the immune system to fight disease while having appropriate anti-inflammatory properties.
Beta glucans have numerous other medicinal properties and have been used for high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer and HIV in humans. In dogs, beta glucans improve vaccination titers in immuno-compromised shelter dogs, and have been used for managing atopy, demodecosis, osteoarthritis and neoplasia.
Dr. Carmen Colitz is a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist with a PhD in Comparative and