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Nutrient - Immunity and glucans, or the myths about the oyster mushroom

By PharmDr Zden Prochazka et al - edited by Suzie Sawyer

Inadequate functioning of the immune system often manifests in an overall sense of fatigue, frequent colds, flu, joint pain, chronic inflammations, slow wound healing, recurring bacterial, viral and fungal diseases, decreased numbers of white blood cells, increased sensitivity to cancerous diseases and so on. 

Many articles citing the beneficial effects of the oyster mushroom on health have been published recently. The oyster mushroom is a wood-rotting mushroom that has positive effects on lipid blood profiles, when consumed in large quantities, thanks to its high fibre content. It may also maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Oyster mushroom also contains many vitamins (B, D, C and K), minerals and trace elements (sodium, chromium, copper, iodine, selenium and zinc), and some fatty acids.

It is also a source of a natural immunomodulating agent, beta-(1,3/1,6)-D-glucan. Beta-glucan has a direct effect on immune cells called macrophages. These cells contain several receptors on their surface, to which the beta-glucan molecule is selectively bound, creating a bond that may be compared to a “key and lock” system. Only when bound is a cascade of signals activated, the result being a positive immune response in the body. Beta-glucan is bound in the mushroom cell walls with other saccharides, proteins and fatty acids and is activated when this bond is released.

The biological availability and immunomodulating effects of beta-(1,3/1,6)-D-glucan are directly dependent on its structure, purity and ability to create a perfect bond with immune cell receptors.

How does beta-(1,3/1,6)-D-glucan affect immunity? The mechanism of action of beta-glucans is based on the stimulation of several immune system cells. In order to fulfil their function, macrophages (foreign particle “eaters”) must be transformed from the resting state to the active state. This is how beta-(1,3/1,6)-D-glucan functions; as an activator of these cells.

Many natural products that have immunostimulating effects are based on glucans. Beside mushrooms, they are also produced by yeasts and are present in malt, aloe, yucca, barley and several other natural sources. They  contain varying amounts of beta-glucans, often insufficient to support healthy immunity. A daily intake of 100mg of beta-(1,3/1,6)-D-glucan helps to support  the immune system.

Oyster mushrooms may also aid healthy digestion and bowel movements and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. 

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