by James J. Gormley
Despite the “advances in modern medicine, we are living in an age that presents staggering risk to our immune system.” Warns Ronald L. Hoffman, M.D. in his 1997 book, Intelligent Medicine (Fireside/Simon & Schuster). True enough. It’s sometimes quite challenging to keep on top of all of the compromises posed to our immune defenses via the environment such as chemicals in our foods, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, insufficient sleep and disease.
But the good news is that surprising immune-boosters are being found in the most unlikely places. Would you believe that a complex sugar (polysaccharide). Beta-1, 3-D-glucan – found in the cell walls of baker’s yeast (and other sources) – is proving itself to be a top-notch immune charger? Believe it.
Beta What? Like other glucans, (special complex sugars or polyglucose). Beta-1,3-D-glucan is made up of sugar units linked together.
In most cases, Beta-1,3-D-glucan is taken and purified from common baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). Other Beta-glucans are found in a variety of fungal cells including sources as Maitake mushroom, Reishi mushroom, Sacred Mushroom tea, barley and oats.
The immune “connection” comes into play when we realize that there is a specific receptor site on a very important immune cell called a macrophage. When Beta-1, 3-D-glucan attaches to the receptor site on the macrophage this immune cell is then “activated” allowing it to go about its business of attacking and destroying invading organisms.
So what exactly is a macrophage? It’s a potent cell that stems originally from a genetic “soup” of DNA in bone marrow. After this “pre-macrophage” travels from the bone marrow into the blood it becomes a monocyte (a special white blood cell of leukocyte) and then as a macrophage gets distributed into many different tissues and organs.
Macrophages: Pac-Man to the rescue? Sort of, just as our hungry virtual friend goes his own little way by devouring invaders, macrophages engulf or phagocytose those nasty troublemakers.
Infection: Macrophages play a key role in fighting infections because they rapidly mobilize the infected sites and also help to recruit immune T cells to sites of infection, injury and cancerous growth. In additions, they respond to bacterial infection by undergoing changes, which enable them to make use of “supercharged” anti-microbial (antibiotic) function.
In contrast to the inflammatory macrophages brought on by irritants or tissue damage macrophages recruited for immune response specifically display an increased capacity to kill a broad range of neoplastic (pre-cancerous) and infectious targets. “William E Paul, M.D. clarified in Fundamental Immunology.
A complex molecule: Superimposed on the macrophages more traditional role as a phagocytic scavenger cell is the growing realization that these cells secrete an enormous array of biologically active products. Not only do macrophages eat up trespassers and offer their own (innate) antioxidants power against free-radicals (the hydroxy radical, especially) they release a dizzying array of critically important enzymes, proteins, lipids and other factors an energy-draining process which decreases levels of vitamin C in activated macrophages.
Some key products released by macrophages include: enzymes that break down cholesterol, triglycerides and protein: interferon-alpha and interferon-beta (“green berets” of our immune expeditionary forces used against AIDS and other diseases): other immune cells: interleukin-1, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha: chondroitin sulfate (proteoglycans) – critical for injury and arthritis and cyclic AMP part of our bodies’ energy equation).
Wound Healing and Inflammation: Macrophages also participate in reducing inflammation and in the healing of tissues following injury. The role of macrophages in inflammation is complex, involving the release of molecules that regulate activity of connective tissue cells. In addition, macrophages secrete angiogenesis factors, that is, factors that bring on the development and growth of new blood vessels. The same molecules promote growth of endothelial tissue and smooth muscle tissue. Reducing the number of macrophages in tissues results in poor wound healing.
Tumor Cells: Activated macrophages can be powerful weapons against many unrelated tumor cells, as can macrophages’ “children” such as interferon mentioned above.
Interferon: Not only is interferon released by macrophages, it, in turn, increases the anti-bacteria and anti-tumor capabilities of macrophages and boosts their innate immune powers.
In conjunction with antioxidants (including vitamin C) Beta-1,3-D-glucan – this yeast-derived sugar – can certainly “rise to the occasion.”