Immuno-primers – powerful activators for the Immune System

Dr Paul Clayton 2008

‘Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees,please!’ (From Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell, 1970).

Joni was more right than she, or we, knew. The spots on our apples – and indeed, the traces of yeast and moulds that used to be on almost all our foods – are now known to be as important for our health as the apples themselves.

These micro organisms contain compounds in their cell walls known as 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans. We now know that these compounds are critically important in priming a part of our immune system known as the innate immune system – but we no longer have many of them in our diet.

To compound the problem, we have over-sanitised our environment, through the wide-spread use of fungicides and bactericidal household sprays. (This is known as the hygiene hypothesis – and it is supported by the fact that children with pets do tend to have stronger immune systems).

Consequently we have left our immune systems less effective at defending us against bacteria and viruses – and we are more likely to develop allergic symptoms.

Immune function is further weakened by Type B malnutrition, a condition now recognized by the UN Standing Committee on Human Nutrition as a major cause of ill health. Type B mal-nutrition is characterized by a typical western diet – with sufficient – even excessive in calories – but often depleted in important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

The key to restoring optimum immune function is nutrition, and this involves not only good diet (one rich in fruits, vegetables and), but also a broad spectrum supplement, and a small number of key phyto-nutrients ie nutrients derived from plants.

1-3, 1-6 Beta Glucans – priming the immune system

Of all the natural compounds known to activate the innate immune system, the best documented and most effective are the 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans, generally derived from baker’s yeast .(Kernodle et al ’98, Wakshull et al ’99, Mansell et al ’75, Hahn & Albersheim ’78, Robertsen et al ’94, Song & Hsieh ’94).

These micro-organisms have always been a threat to animal species, and so the innate immune system long ago developed the ability to recognise 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans and react to them by mounting an immune response. But it went further
than that. As yeasts are so universal, the innate immune system actually became acclimatised to them, and dependent on them to function at peak effectiveness.

Then very late in the evolutionary day, modern technology effectively sterilised our food chain and much of our environment. Levels of yeast and other fungi in our foods, on our bodies and in our houses dropped away; and left the innate immune system weaker. This is the so-called ‘Hygiene’ hypothesis referred to above.

Adding 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans back into the diet restores the effectiveness of the innate immune system, with considerable health benefits.

Biothera’s WGP 3-6 has been subjected to a significant number of clinical trials and has recently been chosen by the US Government for trials in situations where the public may face radiation hazards, whether accidental or deliberate.

Several well-conducted research papers have shown that resistance to infection is greatly enhanced (Onderdonk et al ’92, Kernodle et al ’98, Vetvicka et al ’02).

Research results

Beta glucans are supplements derived and purified from the cell walls of common baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). Research has shown that critical cellular components of the human immune system – macrophages, neutrophils and natural killer (NK) cells have specific receptors for the beta glucan molecule.

Studies that support the efficacy of beta glucans (referenced below) originated with laboratory experiments – for example, in one study 90 % of mice exposed to very high levels of E-coli survived when their innate immune systems were primed by 1-3, 1-6 beta-glucans. 0% survived in the control group.

In a further test, 80% survived exposure to high levels of Staphylococcus aureus as opposed to 0% in the control group.

When beta glucans were administered in combination with anti-biotics after exposure to bacteria, the number of bacteria needed to actually create infection was increased up to 2,000 fold

A human study demonstrated that a beta glucan supplement significantly increased the number of immune cells that were actively engulfing and destroying foreign particles or intruders. After 10 days of treatment, the supplement had increased the percentage of immune cells able to phagocytose (or”eat”) pathogens from 37.3% to more than 50%.

These results show that taking beta glucans enhances the human immune system to defend the body against a challenge. Additionally, the numbers of several important cytokines (proteins which support immune function) were increased.

Food derived nutrients are, in principle, normally safer than artificially created pharmaceutical drug molecules, precisely because they are
natural and have been consumed for centuries.


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2 Patchen ML, McVittie TJ. Stimulated hemopoesis and enhanced survival following glucan treatment in sublethally and lethally irradiated mice. Int J Immunopharmac 1985; 7: 923-932.

3 Bouic PJ, Etsebeth S, Liebenberg RW, Albrecht CF, Pegel K, Van Jaarsveld PP. Beta-sitosterol and beta-sitosterol glucoside stimulate human peripheral blood lymphocyte proliferation: implications for their use as an immunomodulatory combination. Int J Immunopharmacol 1996 Dec;18(12):693-700

4 Patchen ML, D’Alesandro MM, Brook I, Blakely WF, McVittie TJ. Glucan: mechanisms involved in its “radioprotective” effect. J Leuc Biol 1987; 42: 95-105.

5 Vetvicka V, Terayama K, Mandeville R, Brousseau P, Kournikakis B, Ostroff G. Pilot Study:Orally-Administered Yeast Beta1,3-glucan Prophylactically Protects Against Anthrax Infection and Cancer in Mice. J Am Nutraceutical Assocn 2002; 5: 1-5.

6 Babineau TJ, Hackford A, Kenler A, Bistrian B, Forse RA, Fairchild PG, Heard S, Keroack M, Caushaj P, Benotti P. A phase II multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study of three dosages of an immunomodulator (PGG-glucan) in high-risk surgical patients. Arch Surg. 1994 Nov;129(11):1204-10.

7 Beck MA, Levander OA, Handy J. Selenium Deficiency and Viral Infection.J Nutr. 2003;133(5):1463S-1467S

8 Chandra RK. Effect of vitamin and trace-element supplementation on immune responses and infection in elderly subjects. Lancet 1992; 340:1124-1127..

9 Di Luzio NR, Williams DL. The role of glucan in the prevention and modification of microparasitic diseases. In: Assessments of chemical regulation of immunity in veterinary medici Di Luzio NR, Williams DL.

10 Rasmussen LT and Seljelid R. Novel Immunomodulators With Pronounced In Vitro Effects Caused by Stimulation of Cytokine Release. J Cell Biochem 1991; 46:60-68. Quote: “Beta-1, 3-D-polyglucose derivatives protect mice against otherwise lethal bacterial infections.”

11 Tzianabos AO, Cisneros RL. Prophylaxis with the immunomodulator PGG glucan enhances antibiotic efficacy in rats infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Ann NY Acad Sci Oct 1996; 797: 285-287.

12 Williams DL et al. Protective Effect of Glucan in Experimentally Induced Candidiasis. J Reticuloendothel Soc 1978; 23: 479-490.