It is every human’s instinct to protect its own. From the second you were born, you were cradled and protected by your mother. And as you grew, so did your immune system, your body’s natural defense.
The immune system is a series of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend the body against ‘foreign invaders’. These invaders are usually microbes such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi that cause infections. When these infectious organisms invade your body, the immune system defends your body and heals itself.
How does the immune system defend the body?
The body has two defense mechanisms: the innate immunity and adaptive immunity.
Innate immunity is the barriers of the body against infection that we are born with. These are the skin, the acid in stomach, tears, mucus in the mouth and nose, and the cells in the blood stream that can destroy bacteria. Innate immunity is the first-line of defense against invaders. The two key first-line defenders are phagocytes (macrophage) and natural killer (NK) cells. When bacteria try to invade the body, phagocytes and NK cells identify, absorb and destroy the bacteria.
However, some bacteria are cleverly disguised, and the first-line defenders are not able to identify and destroy it. This is when the adaptive immunity comes into place. B and T cells are the main players of the adaptive immunity. When bacteria survive against the macrophage and NK cells, B cell produces antibodies that attach themselves to the bacteria. This attachment will make the bacteria identifiable to the macrophage and NK cells, which then destroys it.
In addition, adaptive immunity is the concept behind immunization or vaccination. By adapting to specific bacteria or virus, the body becomes immune to infection caused by the same bacteria. Upon vaccination, the body prepares antibodies against specific disease so it can prepare for a possible infection in the future.
Balancing the Immune System with Immunomodulators
As we age, several factors may increase or decrease the immune function. Alcohol, stress, aging, harmful bacteria and viruses can decrease the immune function. Meanwhile, exercise, probiotics, herbs and food can increase the immune function.
To regulate and normalize the immune function, immunomodulators are used. Immunomodulators can normalize the immune system of a person with overactive immunity (immune suppression), or boost the immune system of a person with low immunity (immune stimulation).
There are various natural immunomodulators around us. Astragalus, curcumin, ellagic acid, chlorella, Echinacea, resveratrol, vitamin C, and glucan are among them. However among these natural immunomodulators, which one is the best for you? We have to choose the one that is backed by scientific evidence.
Beta-Glucan and CM-Glucan
Beta-glucan is the most known immune stimulant. It is a natural polysaccharide from a variety of plants such as oats, barley and seaweed. Among the various sources, Saccharomyces cerevisiae or baker’s yeast has been studied expansively for its immunomodulatory potential. However, beta-glucan derived from yeast has low solubility and makes it difficult to be absorbed.
To address the problem of solubility, carboxymethylation of beta-glucan transforms it to CM-glucan (carboxymethyl-glucan or sodium carboxymethyl beta-glucan). CM-glucan is a highly soluble glucan that is readily absorbed by the body. It binds with glucan receptors in the white blood cells and stimulates the production of macrophages, neutrophils and other cells that carry specific beta-glucan receptors on their surface.
In addition, CM-glucan also enhances the antioxidant and immunomodulation properties of beta-glucan since it can cross the gastrointestinal wall without causing damage to the digestive system.
The properties of beta-glucan as mentioned above have been observed in a variety of conditions: as an antagonist to benign and malignant tumors, an immunonutrient for athletes, and an adjuvant treatment for respiratory infection, allergic rhinitis and stomatitis. It also lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels, normalizes blood sugar level, and heals and rejuvenates the skin. Aside from being an immunostimulant, beta-glucan also possesses a broad anti-infective property against Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Candida albicans, Pneumocystis carinii, and others. This property is especially advantageous in the Philippines since seven out ten of the leading causes of illness in our country are due to infections.
Glucan for Better Respiratory Health
In 2010, respiratory infection, pneumonia, and bronchiolitis were reported as the top causes of illness in our country. In line with this, the use of beta-glucan to reduce the recurrence of respiratory infections is proven by various studies.
A study by Talbott S and Talbott J (2010) compared the use of placebo and glucan in moderately-to-highly-stressed patients for symptoms associated with respiratory infections and physiological well-being. The patients using glucan reported fewer symptoms of respiratory infection, better overall health, increased vigor, and decreased tension, fatigue and confusion compared with placebo.
The same authors (2009) also studied beta-glucan in marathon athletes. The study concluded that beta-glucan supplementation helps maintain the immune function in endurance athletes, reduces post-exercise upper respiratory infections in marathon runners.
The maintenance of immune function is linked with improved mood state, reduced fatigue, and increased vigor in athletes. A study by Richter et al (2015) concluded that short-term oral use of beta-glucan encouraged better physical endurance in children with respiratory problems and enriched their mucosal immunity.
CM-Glucan exhibits properties that strengthen the immune system. This may result in reduced frequency of recurrent colds and flu, reduced frequency and duration of asthma episodes, absence or reduced frequency of respiratory tract infections. It also provides a better environment for patients under treatment for tuberculosis, and helps shorten the duration, treatment and speed the recovery from infections and disease.
With the threat of respiratory infections in our country, it is important to provide our body with the proper defense mechanism to ward off possible infections and complications. The use of CM-glucan as immunostimulant gives us that added boost that our body needs to keep us healthy and well.
Drugstore shelves, household medicine cabinets and refrigerators are filled with any and all manner of medications. Easily available over-the-counter or prescribed by a trusted pediatrician, they are our reliable go-to partners in to stave off the many bouts of sickness that abound in virus-friendly weather conditions.