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The Common Cold, Flu and Beta Glucan

ThermometerThe common cold, typically caused by human parainfluenza viruses, remains one of the most frustrating of medical illnesses, given its incidence and prevalence.  The common cold has significant effects on health, well-being, and productivity.  Each cold experienced by a working adult results in an average of 8.7 lost work hours, and 1.2 lost work hours due to attending to sick children.1  The economic burden of lost productivity due to colds is approximately $25 billion annually, with lost productivity from missed work days comprising the majority of the financial burden.2   There are no reliable interventions currently available that significantly protect against influenza infections or prevent the occurrence of this illness.  There have been several clinical trials evaluating a variety of dietary supplements for the prevention and treatment of both experimentally induced and naturally occurring colds.

Biological response modifiers such as beta-glucan, enhance the innate immune response without inducing damaging pro-inflammatory cytokines, and may represent a novel approach to protect against cold and flu pathogens.3

Beta Glucan 500mg 60 caps2Beta-glucans are glucose polymers derived from yeast, fungi, or from oats.  In vivo studies suggest beta-glucans may enhance the immune system responses to infectious organisms without eliciting a pro-inflammatory cytokine response.3,4-8

In clinical trials, beta-glucan reduces postoperative infection rates and shortens intensive care unit stay duration.9-11   One study also reported that increasing doses of beta-glucan resulted in fewer infections after surgery.9

Beta-glucan appears to improve immune function in a variety of animal models, without increasing pro-inflammatory cytokines or inducing a febrile response.3,7,12,13

It appears that beta-glucan may be a powerful immune stimulator, as evidenced by its ability to activate macrophages and stimulate positive immune actions on B lymphocytes, natural killer cells, and suppressor T cells in the immune system.14-16   Many in vitro studies have shown that beta-glucan significantly increases microbiocidal activity of human neutrophils and macrophages against a variety of pathogens without directly stimulating synthesis of the cytokines, IL-1 or TNF.  The exact pathway through which beta-glucans interact with the immune system is unknown.  One proposed mechanism is the activation of Dectin-1 pattern recognition receptor on blood peripheral mononuclear cells.17,18


Literature Cited:

  1. Bramley TJ, Lerner D, Sames M.  Productivity losses related to the common cold.  J Occup Environ Med 2002;44(9):822-9.
  2. Molinari NA, Ortega-Sanchez IR, Messonnier ML, Thompson WW, Wortley PM, Weintraub E, Bridges CB.  The annual impact of seasonal influenza in the US:  measuring disease burden and costs.  Vaccine 2007;25(27):5086-96
  3. Niederman R, Kelderman H, Socransky S, Ostroff G, Genco C, Dent R, Jr., Stashenko P.  Enhanced neutrophil emigration and Porphyromonas gingivalis reduction following beta-glucan treatment of mice.  Arch Oral Biol 2002;47(8):613-8.
  4. Bedirli A, Kerem M, Pasaoglu H, Akyurek N, Tezcaner T, Elbeg S, Memis L, Sakrak O.  Beta-glucan attenuates inflammatory cytokine release and prevents acute lung injury in an experimental model of sepsis.  Shock 2007;27(4):397-401.
  5. Ikewaki N, Fujii N, Onaka T, Ikewaki S, Inoko H.  Immunological actions of Sophy beta-glucan (beta-1,3-1,6 glucan), currently available commercially as a health food supplement.  Microbiol Immunol 2007;51(9):861-73.
  6. Liang J, Melican D, Cafro L, Palace G, Fisette L, Armstrong R, Patchen ML.  Enhanced clearance of a multiple antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus aureus in rats treated with beta-glucan is associated with increased leukocyte counts and increased neutrophil oxidative burst activity.  Int J Immunopharmacol 1998;20(11):595-614.
  7. Onderdonk AB, Cisneros RL, Hinkson P, Ostroff G.  Anti-infective effect of poly-beta 1-6-glucotriosyl-beta 1-3-glucopyranose glucan in vivo.  Infect Immun 1992;60(4):1642-7.
  8. Kaiser AB, Kernodle DS.  Synergism between poly-(1-6)-beta-D-glucopyranosyl-(1-3)-beta-D-glucopyranose glucan and cefazolin in prophylaxis of staphylococcal wound infection in a guinea pig model.  Antimicrob Agents Chemother 1998:42(9):2449-51.
  9. Babineau TJ, Hackford A, Kenler A, Bistrian B, Forse RA, Fairchild PG, Heard S, Keroack M, Caushaj P, Benotti P.  A phase II multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study of three dosages of an immunomodulator (beta-glucan) in high-risk surgical patients.  Arch Surg 1994;129(11):1204-10.
  10. Babineau TJ, Marcello P, Swails W, Kenler A, Bistrian B, Forse RA.  Randomized phase I/II trial of a macrophage-specific immunomodulator (beta-glucan) in high-risk surgical patients.  Ann Surg 1994;220(5):601-9.
  11. Dellinger EP, Babineau TJ, Bleicher P, Kaiser AB, Seibert GB, Postier RG, Vogel SB, Norman J, Kaufman D, Galandiuk S, Condon RE.  Effect of beta-glucan on the rate of serious postoperative infection or death observed after high-risk gastrointestinal operations.  Betafectin Gastrointestinal Study Group.  Arch Surg 1999;134(9):977-83.
  12. Sandvik A, Wang YY, Morton HC, Aasen AO, Wang JE, Johansen FE.  Oral and systemic administration of beta-glucan protects against lipopolysaccharide-induced shock and organ injury in rats.  Clin Exp Immunol 2007;48(1):168-77.
  13. Kournikakis B, Mandeville R, Brousseau P, Ostroff G.  Anthrax-protective effects of yeast beta 1,3 glucans.  MedGenMed 2003;5(1):1.
  14. Brown GD, Gordon S.  Immune recognition of fungal beta-glucans.  Cell Microbiol 2005;7(4):471-9.
  15. Castro GR, Ranilaitis B, Bora E, Kaplan DL.  Controlled release biopolymers for enhancing the immune response.  Mol Pharm 2007;4(1):33-46.
  16. Rice PJ, Adams EL, Ozment-Skelton T, Gonzalez AJ, Goldman MP, Lockhart BE, Barker LA, Breuel KF, Depont WK, Kalbfleisch JH, Ensley HE, Brown GD, Gordon S, Williams DL.  Oral delivery and gastrointestinal absorption of soluble glucans stimulate increased resistance to infectious challenge.  J Pharmacol Exp Ther 2005;314(3):1079-86.
  17. Nerren JR, Kogut MH.  The selective Dectin-1 agonist, curdlan, induces an oxidative burst response in chicken heterophils and peripheral blood mononuclear.  Vet Immunol Immunopathol 2009 Jan 15;127(1-2):162-6.  Epub 2008 Sep
  18.  Shah VB, Huang Y, Keshwara R, Oxment-Skelton T, Williams DL, Keshvara L.  Beta-glucan activates microglia without inducing cytokine production in Dectin-1-dependent manner.  J Immunol 2008 Mar 1;180(5):2777-85.

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