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Physiol Behav. 2008 May 23;94(2):276-84. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.11.045. Epub 2007 Dec 4.

Dietary modulation of immune function by beta-glucans.

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Department of Human Biology, Nutrition and Toxicology Institute Maastricht (NUTRIM), Maastricht University, PO Box 616, NL-6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands.


The immune response can be modulated by nutrients like beta-glucans, which are glucose polymers that are major structural components of the cell wall of yeast, fungi, and bacteria, but also of cereals like oat and barley. There is a lot of structural variation in the beta-glucans from these different sources, which may influence their physiological functions. In this review the current status concerning possibilities to modulate immune function by beta-glucans is discussed. In vitro as well as in vivo studies in animals and humans show that especially beta-glucans derived from fungi and yeast have immune modulating properties. Most frequently evaluated are effects on leukocyte activity, which has been suggested to contribute to the increased resistance against infections observed after beta-glucan interventions. Although most studies supply the beta-glucans parenteral (e.g. intravenous or subcutaneous), also enteral administrated (dietary) beta-glucan influence the immune response. Although more human studies are needed, it is tempting to suggest that dietary beta-glucans may be a useful tool to prime the host immune system and increase resistance against invading pathogens.

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