Immune health is important to a large majority of consumers, ranking second as the most desired health benefit required from functional foods and beverages after general health and wellness
A key driver for this growing interest in immune health benefits is that consumers are moving away from short-term fixes to a more proactive, preventive approach to their health. As a result, products featuring functional immune health ingredients are an important tool for consumers looking to achieve their health and wellness goals.
But, although 87% of consumers globally say they are interested in purchasing products with immune health benefits, only 48% are actively buying them.1 Such a high level of interest, contrasted with a relatively low rate of consumption, indicates a great deal of untapped market potential.
With this increased interest in immune health, consumers are becoming more familiar with beta glucans and the role they play in supporting immune health.
These are naturally occurring complex carbohydrates (fibres) found in the cell walls of certain foods. They offer various health benefits, with some beta glucans being able to support the immune system. Although awareness of the link between immune health and beta glucans is growing, uncertainty still exists among both consumers and nutrition and wellness product manufacturers regarding the range of beta glucans available, their various sources and their associated benefits.
When researching and evaluating beta glucans for use in functional foods, beverages and supplements that are focused on immune health, it is important to bear in mind that variations of the beta glucan’s source and strain play a key role in terms of efficacy.
When it comes to immune health benefits, not all beta glucans are equal, particularly in their efficacy. Wellmune is a clinically researched and supported baker’s yeast beta glucan, which has been shown to help support immune system functionality and to maintain overall physical health.
Research has also shown that Wellmune has the ability to protect against the harmful effects of stress and promote both healthy energy levels and mental clarity. Ideal for use in foods, beverages and supplements, Wellmune can be found in hundreds of products in more than 60 countries around the globe.
Beta glucans are a group of complex carbohydrates (fibres) called polysaccharides and are found in the cell walls of certain food categories.
As the body does not produce this type of fibre on its own, beta glucans are available only by consuming these foods or when consumed through functional foods, beverages and supplements that have been fortified with the nutritional ingredient. The three most common sources of beta glucans are cereal grains, mushrooms and common baker’s yeast.
Each type of beta glucan has a beta chemical bond that links glucose units. The nature of this bond varies between beta glucan types and strains, which results in structural differences that lead to large variances in function and potential health benefits.
Each strain is structured with a different molecular backbone and level of branching, and it is these chemical characteristics of each beta glucan that affect biological activity. The health benefits are dependent on the specific strain and the body of evidence by which it is supported, as well as the specific process used in the production of the beta glucan.
In terms of cereal grains, barley, oats, rye and wheat all contain beta glucans. The predominant cereal grain consumed for its beta glucan content is oats, with studies of certain strains of oat beta glucans showing that they help to lower cholesterol levels and provide heart health benefits.
In mushrooms, the molecular structure of beta glucans is varied and inconsistent, making it difficult to characterise their efficacy. Although mushroom beta glucans have been associated with immune health benefits, research shows that their potency is lower than that of certain well-studied baker’s yeast beta glucans.
Multiple strains of yeast produce beta glucans and each strain has a distinct composition and linkage pattern. Wellmune, a baker’s yeast beta glucan, has a distinct composition with a linear backbone of glucose molecules joined together via a beta-(1,3) linkage. It has branch points along the backbone where side-chains are attached via a beta-(1,6) linkage, with each side-chain being between four and six glucose units long.
Wellmune has been shown to support the functioning of the innate immune system, which is the primary line of defence against common health challenges.
It does this by improving the ability of white blood cells to better locate and kill potential pathogens. The human gastrointestinal tract contains immune tissue, called Peyer’s Patches, with specific cells called macrophages that actively collect and transport certain food materials into the immune system. Following oral consumption, Wellmune is actively collected by the Peyer’s Patches in the intestines.
The macrophages (located in the Peyer’s Patches) ingest Wellmune and travel to the immune organs throughout the body. The macrophages break down Wellmune into smaller fragments that bind to neutrophils, the most abundant immune cells in the body. Primed by Wellmune, neutrophils move more quickly to recognise and kill foreign challenges.
More than a dozen published, peer-reviewed clinical studies have demonstrated Wellmune’s ability to support the immune system. Clinical studies have consistently demonstrated the ability of Wellmune to support healthy human immune responses to stress in a variety of populations.
The research also demonstrates that Wellmune reduces the incidence of upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and improves the overall sense of well-being in people of all ages experiencing physical or lifestyle stress.
In a cold/flu season study, a group of healthy subjects aged 18–65 who consumed Wellmune daily for 12 weeks were observed. Wellmune eliminated the need to miss work or school because of cold/flu-like symptoms. Participants also reported an increase in general health markers, including physical energy and emotional well-being.2
Another study evaluated the effect of consuming Wellmune on symptoms associated with upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) and psychological well-being during periods of increased lifestyle stress. Subjects aged 18–65 consumed Wellmune during a 4-week period and reported improvements in multiple health measures compared with the placebo group.
Participants taking Wellmune reported a significant decrease in URTI symptoms, an 8.3% improvement in overall well-being and a 26% increase in vigour. This study’s results were consistent with data from other studies — demonstrating that Wellmune can support immune responses during periods of both physical and psychological stress.3
Extreme physical stress — such as running a marathon — often leads to increased challenges to the immune system. In one study with California marathon runners aged 18–53, participants consumed Wellmune daily for 4 weeks.
Among the participants taking Wellmune, there was a 53% reduction in the number of individuals reporting URTI symptoms after 2 weeks, and a 67% reduction in the number of individuals reporting URTI symptoms after 4 weeks. Wellmune increased vigour and mental clarity while reducing fatigue, tension, confusion and URTI symptoms in these marathon runners.4
Another study evaluated the effect of Wellmune on allergy symptoms in ragweed allergy sufferers. Participants consumed either a placebo or 250 mg of Wellmune daily for 4 weeks during a period of a high pollen count. Subjects in the Wellmune group reported fewer allergy symptoms, reduced severity of symptoms and a reduction in nasal and eye symptoms compared with the placebo group.5
Unlike other beta glucans, Wellmune is extracted from a proprietary strain of baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) using proprietary processes. This means that the health benefits associated with Wellmune cannot be used to substantiate other beta glucan ingredients.
Wellmune has GRAS (generally recognised as safe) status as a food ingredient from the US Food and Drug Administration. An extensive body of published, peer-reviewed science supports its safety in strengthening the body’s key immune functions in a range of consumer groups. Studies have been conducted across a broad range of ages, demonstrating its safety for children, adults and the older adult population. Wellmune is a natural ingredient that can be consumed daily.
Wellmune has a nutritional use in functional foods, beverages and supplements. It also has the ability to support overall immune function, maintain overall physical health, protect against the harmful effects of stress and promote both healthy energy levels and mental clarity. Functional foods, beverages and supplements are convenient formats in which to deliver these proprietary beta glucans to consumers who seek immune health benefits in their everyday products.