There are quite a few products on the market that promise to heal wounds quickly. The one made from a combination of bacitracin, neomycin and polymyxin is so popular that it’s been copied as a generic. But it isn’t all-natural. For those interested in a natural alternative, there’s a new kid on the block, called beta-glucans, found in baker’s yeast and a few other common sources, and destined to be on the shelves as a gel in 2012. Heralded as a “super medicine,” beta-glucans are currently used in veterinary medicine, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. And Norwegian scientists say it has even more potential.
The Research Council of Norway announced the results of a study headed by Rolf Einar Engstad, of Biotec Pharmacon, that proclaimed, “Since the mid-1980’s we have known that these substances (beta-glucans) fight infection and have a bearing on the body’s ability to kill cancerous cells, but never knew why.” At the start of the project, the researchers were uncertain of the efficacy of the delivery method, but in infected laboratory animals, “…determined that animals receiving beta-glucans orally acquired protection that was at least as good as rats that received an injection into their bloodstream.” Effectiveness of topical application in the healing of wounds was welcome news. Incisions, bed sores, diabetic ulcers, and other skin insults can be treated with topical beta-glucans. A matter that has since been addressed is short shelf life, something that can happen to any organic material, such as organic produce. To add to beta-glucans’ acclaim is its capacity to enhance the innate immune system, that immunity with which we are born and which is first mobilized if the body is invaded by a pathogen. (The Research Council of Norway. 2011)
As a supplement, beta-glucans has been around for a while. These sugars are found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, algae, lichens, and plants, such as oats and barley. Orally, they have been used for treating cholesterol, diabetes, cancer and HIV/AIDS, and for bolstering the immune systems of those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and emotional or physical stress. It may be given IV post-surgery to prevent infections. Topically, it’s been used for dermatitis, eczema, wrinkles, bedsores, radiation burns, and other skin conditions. The enhancement of macrophage function aids in healing wounds, although the exact mechanism of this improved healing is uncertain. (Portera. 1997) Besides that, increases in collagen manufacture have been noticed, resulting in improved tensile strength of the new wound covering. (Browder. 1988) The activity in this arena includes the stimulation of growth factors and the release of cytokines, regulatory proteins that mediate the immune response. (Wei. 2002) This results in stimulation of fibroblast (giving rise to connective tissue) collagen biosynthesis.
Yeast-based beta-glucans is being taken more and more seriously as an immune health ingredient. Because it can stand a wide range of body pH, yeast-based product could supplant—or at least enhance—probiotics as a first line of defense against invasion by bacteria and viruses. (Watson, 2011)
Beyond healing wounds, beta-glucans may prevent the absorption of cholesterol from the stomach and intestine when it is taken orally. The beta-glucan found in oats led oatmeal makers to petition the FDA to allow such a claim on their labels. The FDA agreed, as long as the amount is 10% of the product. (Federal Register. 2002)
By injection, beta-glucans stimulate the immune system by increasing chemicals that prevent infections. Used in immunotherapy, as in treating certain invasive diseases, beta-glucans incites cytotoxicity (cell toxicity) in neoplastic (abnormal new growth) tissue while leaving healthy tissue alone. (Vetvicka. 1996)
As with any promising developments in alternative approaches to wellness, funding for additional studies becomes a roadblock. The promise of beta-glucans, which, because it appears in food cannot be patented as a drug (yet), paints a rosy picture for treating cuts and scrapes, and perhaps for the prevention of contagious diseases and chronic illnesses.
Siw Ellen Jakobsen and Else Lie
Baker’s yeast aids healing
The Research Council of Norway. Published: 07.09.2011
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