The immune system is a remarkable machine. Made up of a variety of different cell types, it works hard every day to identify and remove any threats to our health, whether that is bacteria or mutated cells from our own body. This system isn’t a discrete, obvious organ group like the digestive system or cardiovascular system; rather, it is made up of bone marrow, lymph nodes, white blood cells, and even the spleen and stomach, all of which perform immunological tasks in addition to other roles.
It is clear to anyone who has had to call in sick to work that the immune system is an essential part of our health and well-being, as otherwise we find it very difficult to function on the high level that society requires of us every day. But what are some of the ingredients to a healthy immune system? One of them is a little-discussed fiber that is often overlooked by laypeople: beta-glucan. Today, we’ll explain what this is, what it does, where you can find it, and why you might consider using an immune support supplement to maintain great health in an already healthy immune system.
What Is Beta-Glucan?
In short, beta-glucan is a soluble fiber found in certain types of grains. You likely know that fiber is important to your digestive health, but you might not be aware that there are actually two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. We usually hear about insoluble fibers when talking about fiber because it’s important for maintaining good bowel habits, but soluble fiber is just as important for your overall health – including your immune system health.
Soluble fibers, unlike insoluble fibers, are soluble in water, which means that they break down in the digestive tract and form a gel; this helps to slow down digestion so that you can absorb all the nutrients of your food. Fibers like beta-glucan ensure that you digest your food slowly, which prevents large blood sugar spikes and regulates insulin levels better. It also assists with heart health, as it binds to cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed.
How Does Beta-Glucan Help The Immune System?
We just spoke about some of the other benefits of beta-glucan, but it’s essential for the immune system too. This form of fiber is called an “immunostimulant,” meaning that it helps to excite the immune system much like caffeine excites your nervous system. Specifically, beta-glucan activates macrophages, which are white blood cells designed to eat bacteria, viruses, and other harmful pathogens; it essentially wakes them up and tells them it’s time to get to work.
What Foods Contain Beta-Glucan?
Beta-glucan is exclusively produced by grains and mushrooms, meaning that you need to eat plenty of whole grains in order to enjoy the full benefit of this form of fiber. Particularly good sources of beta-glucan include oats, barley, bran, wheat, and rye; it’s also found in shiitake and maitake mushrooms. It’s important to note that like many other nutrients, beta-glucan is often damaged or removed by heavy processing, so the less processed your grains, the more likely you are to get enough fiber.
Why Should You Consider Taking A Supplement With Beta-Glucan?
For those with a healthy immune system following a gluten-free diet, an immune support pill with beta-glucan is a great idea, as they can’t eat wheat, barley, or rye. Not only does beta-glucan itself not contain any gluten, but many supplements are made with the mushroom forms of beta-glucan instead of the grain forms, which provides extra protection for people with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
However, if you eat sprouted wheat and shiitake like your life depends on it, you might wonder whether an immune system supplement can help you; after all, you’re likely getting enough beta-glucan already. This might be true, but it can be difficult to determine exactly how much beta-glucan you’re actually getting from your foods, and there is also no predetermined daily requirement for this particular fiber.
Adding a supplement with this fiber to your daily regimen can greatly benefit a well-functioning immune system, as it can ensure that you’re actually getting as much as you need to maintain your immune system’s good health. It’s also a great way to make sure that if you fall off the wagon a little with your diet, you’re still supplying your immune system with the fiber necessary to keep fighting the good fight.
Whenever starting a new supplement, be sure to check with your doctor, and always select a manufacturer with a proven history of safety and reliability. An immune support supplement can make a huge difference in keeping your whole body healthy, and it’s a small price to pay for continued health.