Beta-Glucans, The Healer

oatmeal-and-white-backgroundThere 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.

References

Siw Ellen Jakobsen and Else Lie
Baker’s yeast aids healing
The Research Council of Norway. Published: 07.09.2011

Portera CA, Love EJ, Memore L, Zhang L, Müller A, Browder W, Williams DL.
Effect of macrophage stimulation on collagen biosynthesis in the healing wound.
Am Surg. 1997 Feb;63(2):125-31.

Browder W, Williams D, Lucore P, Pretus H, Jones E, McNamee R
Effect of enhanced macrophage function on early wound healing.
Surgery. 1988 Aug;104(2):224-30.

Wei D, Zhang L, Williams DL, Browder IW.
Glucan stimulates human dermal fibroblast collagen biosynthesis through a nuclear factor-1 dependent mechanism.
Wound Repair Regen. 2002 May-Jun;10(3):161-8.

Elaine Watson
Biothera on a roll as yeast beta-glucan moves into the mainstream
Nutra-Ingredients-USA.com.  12 September, 2011

Food and Drug Administration, HHS
Food labeling: health claims; soluble dietary fiber from certain foods and coronary heart disease. Interim final rule.
Fed Regist. 2002 Oct 2;67(191):61773-83.

Vetvicka V, Thornton BP, Ross GD.
Soluble beta-glucan polysaccharide binding to the lectin site of neutrophil or natural killer cell complement receptor type 3 (CD11b/CD18) generates a primed state of the receptor capable of mediating cytotoxicity of iC3b-opsonized target cells.
J Clin Invest. 1996 Jul 1;98(1):50-61.

Charlotte Sissener Engstad, Rolf Einar Engstad, Jan-Ole Olsen and Bjarne Osterud
The effect of soluble beta-1,3-glucan and lipopolysaccharide on cytokine production and coagulation activation in whole blood.
Int Immunopharmacol 2(11):1585-97 (2002) t

Suzuki I, Hashimoto K, Ohno N, Tanaka H, Yadomae T.
Immunomodulation by orally administered beta-glucan in mice.
Int J Immunopharmacol. 1989;11(7):761-9.

Delatte SJ, Evans J, Hebra A, Adamson W, Othersen HB, Tagge EP.
Effectiveness of beta-glucan collagen for treatment of partial-thickness burns in children.
J Pediatr Surg. 2001 Jan;36(1):113-8.

Borchers AT, Stern JS, Hackman RM, Keen CL, Gershwin ME.
Mushrooms, tumors, and immunity.
Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1999 Sep;221(4):281-93.

Akramiene D, Kondrotas A, Didziapetriene J, Kevelaitis E.
Effects of beta-glucans on the immune system.
Medicina (Kaunas). 2007;43(8):597-606.

Ross GD, Vetvicka V, Yan J, Xia Y, Vetvicková J.
Therapeutic intervention with complement and beta-glucan in cancer.
Immunopharmacology. 1999 May;42(1-3):61-74.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

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