Search for beta-glucans (β-Glucans) online and you will find a year's worth of reading in about a tenth of a second. You will discover beta-glucans sold as dietary supplements derived from yeast, oats, and fungi. There will be beta-1,3-glucans, 1→4 beta-glucans, D-fraction, Polysaccharide K (PSK), β-glucan (1,3/1,6) and there will be α-glucans, all-in-all it can be pretty confusing.
Beta-glucans are one of the important medicinal components in the mushroom fruit bodies that we use in our extracts. What we would like to offer here is a simple and clear explanation of what beta-glucans are and the current theory on how our immune system interacts with them.
Beta-glucans are a type of polysaccharide (meaning: many sugars), there are many types of polysaccharides including things like cellulose (structural cell walls in plants) and chitin (the material crab shells are made from). You can think of Polysaccharides as a structural chain built out of sugar molecules.
Beta-glucans and alpha-glucans are both made up of a type of sugar molecule called glucose. The difference between the two is how the glucose molecules are bonded together in the structural chain. Alpha-glucans (glucose with alpha glycosidic linkages, hence the name alpha-glucan), which are found in grains like oats and barley, are bonded in a way that their chain makes a spiral; they are a carbohydrate. When we consume alpha-glucans, our digestive systems break them down from their starch forms into glucose, and we use them as sugar energy.
Beta-glucans (glucose molecules with beta glycosidic linkages connecting them together, hence the name beta-glucan) are glucose molecules bonded in a way so they form a linear chain making a fiber. This type of beta-glucan fiber doesn't break down into glucose molecules in our digestive system as the alpha-glucans do. These beta-glucans travel through our digestive system, interact with the bacteria lining our gut and pass into our bloodstream interacting with our immune system.*
Beta-glucans from oats, barley and wheat are linear chains joined by 1,3 and 1,4 links, medicinal mushrooms contain more complex beta-1,3/1,6-glucans. These are beta-glucans that have 1,3 linked glucose molecules as their main stem with 1,6 linked glucose molecule branches. These branches give the mushroom beta-glucans their complex shape. When these beta-glucans enter our bloodstream, they attach to receptors on cells in our immune system, acting like keys which trigger biological responses.* This is why you will see them referred to as "Biological Response Modifiers."
Each type of mushroom has its unique array of complex beta-glucans influencing our immune system and directing responses in different parts of our body.* Some of these beta-glucans have been identified and given names like D-fraction from Maitake and Krestin or PSK from Turkey Tail. Many others have not been named and are still being studied to discover what beneficial immune support they might offer.*
Hot water extracted beta-glucans can be very powerful*, but as you read in the Extract section, these are only a portion of the beneficial components you get from medicinal mushrooms. Profungi mushroom extracts combine both Ultrasonic hot water and alcohol soluble components, providing the full range of support available from these medicinal fungi.
Learn more about our individual extracts here.