Mushroom beta glucans: food or medicine?

In order to determine whether it could be used as a food (supplement) or as a medicinal product, Hidde van Steenwijk has compiled all the evidence on the use of beta-glucans from mushrooms as an ingredient in food or medicine in the review ’Immunomodulating Effects of Fungal Beta-Glucans: From Traditional Use to Medicine’.

In addition to examining the potential effect of beta-glucans, Hidde first examined the extent to which there is already supporting evidence to satisfy the requirements for substantiation of nutrition and health claims. For this purpose, various types of European approved health claims about nutrients supporting the immune system were examined, an effect also attributed to beta-glucans.

In addition, for the pharmaceutical application of beta-glucans, all available scientific literature was analysed that describes how beta-glucans can play a role in supporting the so-called trained immunity, an innovative concept in immunology. From this analysis of all available evidence on alleged health effects of beta-glucan-containing food supplements, it becomes apparent that for a number of supplements (that are well characterised) lots of supportive evidence is being generated, and the step towards an approved claim does not seem to be too large.

Meanwhile, different studies that have been conducted into the pharmaceutical application of beta-glucans from mushrooms show that there may also be a role for these substances as medicinal products: the beta-glucans clearly affect trained immunity. Therefore, Hidde and his colleagues from Maastricht University conclude in this review that these innovative ingredients can be used in different ways: in the future, well characterised beta-glucans could play a role in supporting immunity in the form of a food supplement, while the application of beta-glucans from mushrooms in trained immunity also seems to be a promising area of research.

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