Skincare is a multibillion dollar industry, promising everything from agelessness to UV protection to beautification.
But glowing skin is so much more than a covering. It is the largest organ of the body, involved in hormone exchange, waste, protection, temperature regulation and so much more.
It is our first defense against intrusions – a key function in immunity – and a last resort when normal detoxing and elimination fail – erupting in breakouts and rashes. We should give our skin as much careful concern as fragile internal organs would receive, not because it is delicate, but because it is important.
Beta glucan is a gentle supplement that can be taken daily as the glowing skin’s ally in the interwoven network of body systems and functions.
Discovering Beta Glucan
When we think of supplements, multi-vitamins, individual vitamins, and minerals come to mind. Beta glucan is not quite yet a household name.
Just as supplemental vitamins and minerals are extracted from whole foods sources, beta glucan is derived from the cell walls of various foods, usually mushrooms or yeast.
As a polysaccharide and fiber, beta glucan’s molecular structure is formed as a strand, with periodic branches along the chain. Formulations of beta glucan are indicated by the point at which the branches occur, such as beta (1,3) (1,4) glucan, or beta (1,3) (1,6) glucan. Beta (1, 3) D-glucan is the bioactive form most commonly used for high quality supplements. While we refer to it as simply beta glucan, read the supplement labels to be sure of the specific kind of beta glucan that you are taking.
Beta glucan supplements are typically in capsule form, taking the beta glucan to be absorbed by the intestinal tract and utilized where needed throughout the body. This may seem counterintuitive for skin benefits, but remember that the body functions as a unit, so the health of the body internally is reflected on the skin just as much as the skin filters out what makes it into the body.
Beta Glucan Supports Immune Function for Vibrant, Glowing Skin
While every body system is technically interwoven, the immune system seems to be especially closely linked to each of the others. Beyond keeping us from coming down with that common cold or worse, the immune system is much more than disease prevention.
It regulates the way that the body responds to stress, which is one of the biggest contributors to premature aging and skin problems.
Those little lines and wrinkles that pop up on the forehead are obviously connected to stress, evidenced by the descriptor “worry lines”; but stress is connected to skin diseases as much as aging. A bout of acute stress can be physiologically processed on the skin, breaking out into hives or other unpleasant symptoms. As researchers learn more about the immune system and stress responses, the connection between mental stress and the skin are increasingly clear. (1)
Normal immune response includes white blood cells called macrophages traveling to the site of intrusion or disease in the form of inflammation. When the immune system overreacts, or reacts to a perceived threat – such as stress – it is essentially chasing a ghost, creating uncomfortable and unnecessary inflammation without resolution. Beta glucan helps at this crucial foundational level by helping the immune system to have more efficient responses to illness as well as stress, leading to a decrease in unnecessary inflammation. (2)
Topical treatments for age prevention and disease have their place, but they often address the symptoms only and not the cause. With the effects of stress minimized and immune system stabilized, we are able to protect our skin from the inside out. (3)
How Beta Glucan’s Antioxidant Levels Protect and Heal the Skin
Further unpacking the relationship between stress and the skin, we find the concept of oxidative stress. As a medical and pathological term, stress is defined as anything that upsets the body’s natural balance, or homeostasis.
When the body is off balance, each system works overtime to restore the balance. Stress, then, is still the worry we have about finances or work situations, but it’s also toxic exposures to cigarette smoke or synthetic chemicals, overexertion in the gym, and poor dietary habits.
Each of these circumstances can initiate the production of free radicals, or molecules that break free without an electron.
To balance back out, they steal from other molecules, making them a free radical that steals from others, and so on until the cell itself becomes unstable and breaks down. Free radicals left unchecked become oxidative stress, which leads to health concerns in the body system in question – skin included. (4)
Oxidative stress can be mitigated by substances categorized as antioxidants. Found frequently in richly colored fruits and vegetables – as well as in beta glucan – antioxidants seek out free radicals in the body and eliminate them, and they also repair the cellular damage that occurred.
For the skin, this equates to both a protective and restorative effect. The quality of your diet, including your intake of antioxidants, can significantly affect your skin health. (5)
As an antioxidant source, beta glucan can supplement the diet to help minimize and repair the damage done by toxins and stress. We’ll look later at the ways that topical antioxidants can pair with internal antioxidants like a beta glucan supplement. Nutritionally, though, a focus on varied fruits and vegetables and a reliable source of beta glucan can target skin health from a cellular level.
Beta Glucan and Skin Cancer Prevention
Most recent numbers indicate that one in five adults will be diagnosed with some type of skin cancer in their lifetime. From the American Academy of Dermatology:
More than 3.5 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are diagnosed in more than 2 million people in the United States every year. (6)
While each type of skin cancer will manifest in different ways, the principle is relatively basic across the board. Cells begin to go “off course” from their normal function and begin to replicate, creating abnormal tissue, then abnormal masses, potentially sending messengers, of sorts, throughout the body t
o replicate in other areas and systems.
The same scouting and repairing role that antioxidants play with free radicals may apply to potentially cancerous cells, as well. With regard to skin health and skin cancer, antioxidants act as a protective force against the damage that UV rays do to skin that can lead to cancer – otherwise known as a photochemopreventive (preventing cancer from light/sun damage). (7)
More than its antioxidant effects, beta glucan may be an even stronger ally against skin cancer. In lab tests, beta glucan has shown antitumor effects, telling the body to stop the process that builds tumors. (8) At an even more basic level, it has shown itself as antimutagenic, which would tell the faulty cells from mutating in the first place! (9)
Researchers are learning more about cancer prevention and treatment all the time. While we may not have a clearly defined and guaranteed way to prevent cancer, we have tools at our disposal, like beta glucan, that we know to have the ability to work with our bodies to give us the best chance we can.
Wound Healing Effects of Beta Glucan
The most dramatic display of the skin’s abilities as an organ is the way wounds heal. From scratches to surgical wounds and every variant in between, the stages of wound healing are remarkable.
Homeostasis stops bleeding with a clot; white blood cells fill the area, occasionally with visible pus; the wound closes, and eventually fresh skin cells and tissue grow to close the wound, tighter and stronger than it was to begin with.
The better your nutritive state is, the better your body will be able to execute the wound healing process. (10) We see this with diabetes – when a person’s diabetes is out of control or advanced, and the nutrients consumed are not properly metabolized, wounds are slow to heal.
Just as beta glucan pairs with a well rounded diet for antioxidant capabilities, it is a partner in wound healing, as well. Giving the body the fuel it needs to carry healing properties to wounds is important. Boosting the body’s efforts with a healing supplement like beta glucan is even better.
Part of the wound healing process is the reestablishment of skin tissue where the wound occurred. Skin is more than what we see, with multiple layers and types of cells. As a wound heals, the layers are rebuilt, including collagen fibers, the strands that help glowing skin to retain its elasticity.
Researchers have found glucan receptors in this part of the skin, and demonstrated the beta glucan can impact the rebuilding of collagen after a wound. (11)
Beta glucan appears to have big effects on this process, particularly pure, select sources of beta glucan. When researchers in 2011 evaluated the cell regeneration process after a scratch, beta glucan from Transfer Point, the source that we highly recommend, advanced healing substantially, restoring cells and bridging the gap that the scratch had left. (12)
Not Just Any Beta Glucan
As with anything in the natural health realm, quality is much more important than quantity – beta glucan is no different. In the wound healing study referenced above, Transfer Point’s source was not the only beta glucan tested. Several others were evaluated, as well, yielding little to no result.
Beta glucan is a fiber found in cell walls of plants, which means that there is no single source. Just as we think of snowflakes as unique though they are all composed of ice crystals, plants are varied and unique while frequently sharing basic composition features. Beta glucan is a shared feature of cell walls in various plants, but the source may determine effectiveness.
We’ve discussed beta (1,3) d-glucan as the highest bioavailable form of beta glucan – that’s the first thing to look for. Next, is the plant source. Mushrooms, grains, and other plants are beta glucan sources. Transfer Point’s beta glucan, which has tested very well as we have seen, comes from baker’s yeast, the type of beta glucan tested on so-called glucan receptors. (13)
Finally, the purity levels of a beta glucan supplement are easily tarnished, and like any supplement, no federal requirements exist for testing and quality assurance. For beta glucan, low purity levels can inhibit effectiveness. (14) This is all the more reason to choose a beta glucan manufacturer that is reputable and volunteers strict purity standards.
Topical Support for Skin Health and Healing
There is no magic bullet in natural health – or life – and that is part of the beauty of wholistic health. We don’t expect to take one supplement, add or eliminate one food, or follow one order and then find our problems solved.
No, our body systems do not function in a vacuum and we cannot expect to improve them with singular approaches.
We’ve seen how antioxidants are beneficial for cell and skin health from a nutrient source as well as a supplemental beta glucan source. Now, we’re going to sooth it with topical antioxidants, as well. (15)
Topical antioxidants are nothing new – vitamin E formulas have been part of pharmaceutical acne treatments for decades. Researchers are now finding that topical antioxidants may also help to both protect from and reverse existing photodamage. (16)
By combining an antioxidant-rich base oil with nutritive and healing essential oils, we can support the skin from the outside while a healthy diet and beta glucan supplementation support it internally.