The vitamin craze of the past couple of decades is beginning to come to a sensible head. Where we once insisted that all kids take their vitamins (pick a vitamin, any vitamin!), we now work to help kids eat their vitamins in whole foods and supplement only when necessary.
Healthy foods are being marketed to kids more and more, while popular multivitamins have been revealed as low quality, dyed, and otherwise artificial.
We should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater – or the baby’s supplements out with the empty chewables. As with adults, it is difficult for kids to get every nutrient necessary via diet alone, thanks to food growth practices, affordability, and accessibility problems, not to mention picky eating. One supplement that we advocate for young and old alike is beta glucan. As a preventative for many common childhood complaints, beta glucan covers your kids’ bases while navigating a healthy childhood.
There are five reasons I’d recommend beta glucan for any child. Beta glucan:
- Supports the immune system
- Aids the respiratory system
- Prevents obesity
- Healthy Heart
Each of these issues plays an important role in our increasingly sickly childhoods. Not only is prevention important for their health now, but also for their residual health as they grow up. Protecting our kids’ immune systems and preventing chronic illness in childhood sets them up for a lifetime of health.
What is Beta Glucan?
Found in the cell walls of bacteria, yeasts, and fungi, as well as in the bran of some cereal grains, beta glucan is a fiber used as an additive or a supplement, depending upon the source.
As a molecular structure, beta glucan is a polysaccharide – or, a strand of glucose molecules. Along the strand, bonds or branching chains may occur at specific points, slightly changing the structure and type of beta glucan. These variants are indicated by numbers and letters. So, when we see beta glucan listed as an ingredient or supplement, it may read beta (1,3) (1,4) glucan, or beta (1,3) (1,6) glucan, etc.
Because sourcing and purity is so important with beta glucan, we have to go over it before ever discussing the benefits. A tainted source or an ineffective type of beta glucan will never bring about the immune system, metabolic, or respiratory benefits that we’re looking for. (1)
Unless you are a chemist, it’s probably going to be difficult and is certainly unnecessary to know the ins and outs of molecular composition. What’s helpful to know, though, is that the numbers 1,3 and 1,6 indicate biologically active forms of beta glucan. Every function in the body occurs on a cellular and molecular basis, so the molecular breakdown of our foods and supplements interacts with the molecules in our bodies. In other words, the structure of a beta glucan supplement can make it more or less likely to benefit the body.
Other descriptive terms pinpoint details about beta glucan’s sourcing and structure, so that it can become an elaborate description. Beta- 1,3 D-glucan is derived from the cell walls of baker’s yeast, and has become known as one of the most effective forms of supplemental beta glucan. (2)
A clean source of this kind of beta glucan presents as a soluble fiber, which you may recognize as an important macronutrient. Fiber is vital to the health of the digestive tract, which helps to regulate immune responses and nutrient absorption. Especially when a supplement is for a child, purity and effectiveness are incredibly important. The beta-glucan that we promote and use is beta- 1,3 D-glucan, and we source it from TransferPoint, who ensures one of (if not the) purest forms, ensuring maximum benefits for your child.
Beta Glucan Supports the Immune System
The immune system is a web of intricate reactions and responses, many of which researchers are still learning about. We tend to talk in generalities about boosting the immune system, when in reality we need more than just an increase in immune activity. A primary immune response is to increase inflammation – simply increasing that type of response is not always beneficial.
Instead, immunomodulators like beta glucan regulate an efficient immune response. Inflammation is meant to carry white blood cells to infiltrating threats, like a virus. Some of these white blood cells are called macrophages, which engulf and destroy threatening substances. Macrophages are activated by beta glucan intake, making them alert to cells and organisms that should be targeted. (3)
In a 2013 study, children were observed for immune response after beta glucan supplementation, and the results were impressive. Before the study began, researchers from the University of Kentucky noted that
“Several thousands of published studies showed that glucan has significant effects on both branches of immune reactions, on reducing stress, lowering cholesterol, regulating the blood sugar and protection against the negative effects of environmental toxicity.”
The goal of this particular study was to analyze the way that beta glucan helped the body to react to heavy physical activity, which normally lowers immune function. With beta glucan supplementation, however, children with respiratory illnesses saw stabilized mucousal immunity – the immune function that makes pathogens “slip” through the body and never attach or begin to infect. The researchers concluded that there were “strong effects of glucan supplementation on the overall health status of all children in this group.” (4)
We’ll look more at respiratory health later, but think about the way kids tend to “crash” after a big game, a long weekend of play, or the first big swim day of the summer. Regular exercise is beneficial, but excessive physical exertion is taxing for anyone. Beta glucan helps to mitigate this overload and keep the immune system working optimally under any circumstance.
A Healthy Immune System can help alleviate Allergies
One unfortunate kink in the immune process is demonstrated when the body attacks benign substances as though they were a threat.
According to the American College of Allergies, Asthma, and Immunology, as many as 40% of all children in the US are affected by nasal allergies alone – not counting skin or food allergies. (5) In children, allergies can contribute to a range of childhood problems, from inattentiveness to missed school days.
Unfortunately, treatments are usually over the counter drugs, prescriptions, or even injections. Food and contact allergies can be avoided, though avoidance is often tedious for a child, particularly if they are quite young. Seasonal or airborne allergies are nearly impossible to avoid.
To address allergies naturally, the immune system is the ideal place to start – remember that allergies are an overreaction of the immune system. We’ve already seen how beta glucan can help modulate immune responses. This kind of immune adjustment may be helpful with regard to overreaction as well as under-reaction.
This topic was the subject of curiosity in a 2013 study, where folks struggling with a ragweed allergy were given beta glucan in a randomized, controlled, double blind study on its ability to mitigate allergy symptoms. The result? Widespread symptom relief and improved quality of life. For your kids, that reads as I feel better, mom! and let’s go play! (6)
More studies will come, but the premise and promising results inspire confidence. While this particular study focused on ragweed and nasal allergies, the principle is similar for other allergies, as well. Improve the efficiency of the immune system, and you’re likely to feel better all around.
Beta Glucan and the Respiratory System
Kids are increasingly affected by respiratory issues, topping the list of health concerns worldwide. Environmental pollutants are in large part to blame, without doubt. But this goes beyond allergic and asthmatic reactions and into repeat infections.
School-aged kids wind up having several colds every year.. Not only are our kids miserable, but they are missing school and parents are missing work to care for them.
On top of that, antibiotics are often prescribed, contributing to the overuse of antibiotics that is creating a public health crisis. (7) With everything from cars to carpets to computers pumping pollution at us and our kids, environmental prevention is hard to come by. We have to dig deeper and hit respiratory illness where it starts.
Once again, the immunomodulating effects of beta glucan come into play as beneficial – even necessary. Not only has it been shown to increase the immune function of mucous after stress, but another randomized, controlled study observed a similar increase in the face of pollution. (8)
As the studies evaluating children and beta glucan were developed and analyzed, author Vetvicka Vaclav notes,
Properly functioning immune system is crucial to defend against all invading pathogens, including common cold viruses. Currently, yeast-derived glucans were confirmed to have beneficial effects against common cold and respiratory symptoms (Talbott and Talbott, 2012; Auinger et al., 2013) and against allergy symptoms… In addition, glucan was found to significantly improve the immunosuppression caused by various toxins (Vetvicka and Vetvickova, 2012), making it an optimal molecule for children from environmentally poluted areas. [sic](9)
It’s important to note that not all pollution looks like smog. Our homes are filled with machines – TVs, computers, appliances – plastics, and synthetic materials that leach toxins into the air. Even relatively benign “off-gassing” can add up to a lot for little bodies.
Second hand smoke, however, is more than a contributor to pollution – it is one of the most dangerous things a child can be exposed to.
In observing children’s responses to stress and pollutants while taking beta glucan, the 2013 series of studies also took a look at the way beta glucan may block some of the damage that second hand smoke and other systemic stresses can cause. The results showed that the children taking beta glucan had clearly (but not surprisingly!) lower stress response levels than their peers, even in the face of second hand smoke and chronic respiratory illness. They concluded:
The positive effects of complex curative treatment using beta-glucan were accompanied by increased physical endurance and by significant reduction of negative clinical problems of affected children. Based on these data, we conclude that natural immunomodulator beta-glucan significantly improves the overall health of children with chronic respiratory problems caused by environmental stress and/or passive smoking.
Each analysis from these groups of children turned over a new area of benefit brought on by beta glucan supplementation. With respiratory health at the pinnacle of child wellness and the environment difficult or impossible to change, beta glucan is a comprehensive immune-regulator that may be your child’s strongest health and wellness ally.
Facing Obesity with Beta Glucan
Obesity comes with many stigmas, and obesity in childhood is not exempt. Assumptions about habits and health are made, and advice may tend to be critical rather than beneficial.
The stigma surrounding obesity is not doing anyone any favors. Not only do we need to focus on the prevention of childhood obesity, but understanding the mechanisms of obesity can help us to set our children up for successful prevention as adults.
Diet and exercise are certainly important to maintain. Healthy habits established from childhood can lay the foundation for a lifetime of health. But obesity is far more complex than caloric intake and output.
In other words, an overweight child is not necessarily the product of poor parenting, laziness, or any other derogatory assumption. Obesity as a metabolic disorder and inflammatory illness is important to consider. Once again, that intricate immune system may play a heavy role.
Inflammation that carries white blood cells to a disease is good; inflammation that constantly circulates the body is not. Low grade inflammatory levels are a marker of obesity for both children and adults, with the inflammation increasing alongside weight. (10) Underscoring the importance of physical fitness, inflammatory levels are higher in children who are overweight and inactive than in children who are physically fit but carrying extra weight. (11)
The inflammation link connects obesity with other inflammatory illness, such as heart disease and diabetes. Whether or not kids visibly struggle with weight in childhood, they are still building their foundation for health as an adult. Preventing inflammatory conditions from childhood helps them stand a better chance as an adult.
The role that inflammation plays in obesity is important, because it gives immune regulators like beta glucan a role to play, as well. As published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism in 2012:
Dietary fibers have been strongly implicated in the prevention and treatment of various characteristics of the metabolic syndrome. .. Among soluble fibers, beta–glucan is the most frequently consumed and is associated with reduced presence of insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and obesity. (12)
Supplementing with beta glucan from childhood, whether the child is currently overweight or not, addresses one underlying cause of obesity before it becomes a lifelong battle.
Barley Beta Glucan is an excellent source to help maintain a healthy heart.
Dosing and Safety Notes
We can learn all we’d like to about the benefits of a substance, but if those properties aren’t included in the supplement we chose, none of it will be realized. We strive to provide that quality in every supplement we supply and recommend, and beta glucan is no different.
The studies cited here for children’s use of beta glucan used 100mg doses, but the manufacturer’s recommendation should always take precedent.
Learn more about Transfer Point Beta Glucan.