The keys to strengthening the immune system naturally are 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans and T-cell immunity

Colin Rose is a Senior Associate of the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM). He draws on recent updates from multiple sources including both the US and European Centres for Disease Prevention and Control. He researches and writes for Uni-Vite Healthcare Ltd.

The ageing immune system and co-morbidities – why covid is so dangerous to the elderly

Your immune system normally weakens as you age – a process called immuno-senescence.

This weaker, less protective, immune system makes us more vulnerable to any illness, viral and bacterial infection, and to DNA damage and cancer as we get older. And it’s why vaccines are generally less effective in the older age group.

So even given the very optimistic news on a COVID vaccine – and there will be others – ensuring your immune system is working to the maximum is the key to long term health.

Although age is given as the key risk factor for COVID-19 infection, it’s not chronological age that’s the risk, it’s because older people often have other illnesses – ‘co-morbidities’ – which make them more ‘vulnerable’. And those illnesses are made more likely by a weaker immune system.

It’s a vicious circle – but one that can be broken. Strengthening your immune system doesn’t only help protect against viral attack, it’s an essential part of staying healthy.

I was struck by this while watching the latest RSM – Royal Society of Medicine – weekly coronavirus briefing. When you see behind the scenes in hospitals, you realise how deadly serious this virus can be for patients – and how every COVID hospital patient potentially edges out other people who need attention. Causing thousands of missed cancer, heart, and surgical operations, and even mental health treatments.

The importance of boosting your immune system naturally

While the latest news on a vaccine for covid-19 is very optimistic, it will be many weeks before most of us are likely to get it, or others in the pipeline. So how, apart from hands – face – space, can we reduce our risk of infection?

We know the vital role of T and B cells in boosting your immunity – now comes clear evidence of how you can improve your overall immune response.

We talk of ‘an’ immune system, but there are two, interlinked, parts to your immune system.

The innate immune system

Your innate immune system consists of immune cells that act as a permanent first line of defence. They continuously patrol throughout your body, looking for foreign pathogens like harmful bacteria and viruses.

If they detect an intruder, these immune cells zero in on the pathogen to kill it and/or engulf it to eliminate it from the body. Key innate immune cells are neutrophils, Natural Killer (NK) cells, which kill infected cells to prevent them from replicating, and macrophages which identify dangerous bacteria and engulf them to inactive and eliminate them. NK cells can also recognise ‘rogue’ mutated cancerous cells and kill them to prevent tumour growth.

Your innate immune system also includes the physical barrier of the skin, the mucous lining of the respiratory tract that catches inhaled pathogens and immune enzymes that protect the eyes, nose and throat.

The adaptive immune system

Your adaptive immune system is your second line of defence. This is the immune system with memory. If you have had a viral or bacterial infection before – or have had a vaccination – your adaptive immune system remembers the challenge.

It produces antibodies that correspond to the exact antigen on the virus or bacteria. But that response takes time – sometimes many days. And the adaptive immune system is only triggered if you have experienced that specific virus before – or have had a vaccine.

Even then it may not be enough if the virus has mutated. Which is why flu vaccines are new each year to keep up with last year’s mutation. And this is likely to be true of a COVID-19 vaccine.

You’ll now see why the innate immune system is so important. If it is strong enough it can dispose of a viral threat before the numbers – called the viral load – become so high that they overwhelm your defences.

What strengthens the innate immune system? High anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant food plan

You’ll already know that a diet high in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant ingredients reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease. It also strongly supports a strong immune system. This optimum food plan is taken from my new book Delay Ageing. It’s high in zinc, vitamin D, vitamin C and polyphenols from fruits and vegetables – all important immune boosting nutrients. You can get it here.

What strengthens the innate immune system? Beta glucans

There is one natural compound that is by far the best immediate way to active and strengthen the immune system. It’s called 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans. And specifically a version called Wellmune, which has had some $200 million worth of research behind it.

[1-3, 1-6 beta glucans are not to be confused with oat beta glucans. Oat beta glucans are type 1-4 beta glucans, which can help lower cholesterol.]

1-3, 1-6 beta glucans are derived from the cell wall of purified yeast (the purification means they can’t cause any yeast allergy reaction).  These beta glucans can also be found in shiitake, maitake, chaga and other mushrooms.

Here’s what happens when you ingest a 1-3, 1-6 beta glucan supplement. Innate immune cells – Natural Killer Cells, neutrophils and macrophages – have sensors on them that recognise yeast as a potential threat. Our environment used to be full of yeast before we over-sanitised it, which has led to our innate immune system being less frequently challenged and therefore becoming weaker and unbalanced.

1-3, 1-6 Beta glucans – the highlights

Just a few highlights from more than 700 studies.

Human research has confirmed 1-3, 1-6 beta-glucans are effective against flu symptoms.———————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

When laboratory mice were exposed to very high levels of E-coli, NONE survived, but when the immune systems of a control group were primed with beta glucans, 90% survived.

Scientists at the Canadian Department of Defense gave mice 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans before they exposed them to a potentially lethal dose of anthrax. Half of the control mice immediately died, while ALL of the beta-glucan protected mice survived.  

During the 2009/10 swine flu epidemic, pigs administered with beta glucans showed far lower replication of that virus and much less damage to lung function.—————————————————————————-

In 2019, the Department of Immunology at the University of Louisville published a meta survey of 20,000 other studies on various immune modulators. They concluded that 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans had “the best position” among all the many immune boosting compounds tested.    
The same researchers also examined the positive use of 1-3,1-6 beta glucans as adjunct therapy in certain cancer treatments – specifically, monoclonal antibody therapy. (Monoclonal anti-body therapy is now being used for hospitalised COVID Patients). They concluded:
“With more than 80 clinical trials evaluating their biological effects, the question is not if beta glucans will move from food supplement to widely accepted drug, but how soon … In addition, they are relatively inexpensive and possess extremely low risk of negative side effects.”
Thankfully, these beta glucans are NOT a drug, they are nutrients in natural foods like yeast and mushrooms. The use of 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans as a support to cancer patients is logical, because radiation suppresses the creation of white immune blood cells and leaves the patient vulnerable to infection. By restoring the level and activity of these white blood cells, 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans are able to restore immune function and reduce vulnerability. In Japan, 1-3, 1-6 beta glucan therapy is common in cancer treatment.
This immune enhancement was confirmed in yet another study (by the US Armed Forces Radiobiological Research Institute), when 50% of mice given a normally fatal dose of radiation survived, versus 100% mortality in the control panel. Most of us, fortunately, will never be exposed to radiation attack or anthrax. But as a way to increase your immune response to viruses, colds, super-bugs and pathogenic bacteria, the use of 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans as a supplement is supported by a lot of clinical evidence.
In a 2007 review, European researchers noted that:
“Beta-glucans improve host immune defence by activating the innate immune system and enhancing macrophage and natural killer cell function. They protect against the initiation of tumours by carcinogens and can also inhibit tumour growth and metastasis.”

1-3, 1-6 beta glucans support the adaptive immune system, too

Until recently, the evidence has been that beta glucans support the front-line innate immune system. But a study published in 2019 in the peer-reviewed journal Molecules confirmed that (my emphasis):

“Beta-glucans act on several immune receptors that stimulate immune cell activity, including T-cells, macrophages, neutrophils, monocytes, natural killer (NK) cells, and dendritic cells, and as a result, pose modulatory effects on both the innate and adaptive branches of the immune system.”

Although the terminology is a bit complicated, the study authors continue:

“1,3 -1,6 glucans, essential for controlling infection … bind to CR3 receptors, triggering adaptive immune response. … Beta-glucans trigger the release of various interleukins and cytokines such as TNF-𝜶, IFN-𝛄 and NF-𝝹𝜷, while also helping support regulation of the T-helper cell 1 and Th-2 balance for immunological homeostasis”.

What this means in plain English is that beta glucans also improve the performance of the adaptive immune system and help normalise the immune system. This is very significant for improving the effectiveness of a vaccine – especially in older people – or helping ensure that a viral infection, whether COVID or any other, has the best chance of a mild outcome.

And more:

“Numerous animal and human studies have shown remarkable activity against a wide variety of tumors. Further, more recent studies have repeatedly shown that glucan has a strong synergy with the antibodies which naturally occur in cancer.”

I am convinced that beta glucans are a powerful, natural supplement.

Beta glucans and beta sitosterol in ImmunoShield – natural, safe and effective

Now a full disclosure, because I want as many people over the age of 55 to know about this – and anyone with older parents.

In 2006, Uni-Vite Healthcare (the company I founded) developed a supplement called ImmunoShield that contains Wellmune 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans, as well as beta sitosterol.

Beta sitosterol is a plant sterol derived from oil-producing plants especially nuts and seeds. It has anti-viral and antibacterial properties and is also shown to improve immune function, helping to normalise the body’s reaction to stress – important as stress suppresses immune response. Especially significant is the fact that plant sterols help in the production of T-cells. As we’ve seen, T (and B) cells are main components of the Adaptive Immune System.

In a randomised placebo-controlled trial, beta sitosterol, on its own, was shown to increase T-cell production and significantly speed the recovery of patients suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis.

In another trial, marathon runners – whose immune systems are known to become suppressed through the intensity of the exercise – were given beta sitosterol. Their white blood cell counts were significantly increased. The researchers noted that:

“This makes (beta sitosterols) extremely valuable adjuncts to the prevention and treatment of a wide range of stress-mediated disorders, as well as immune dysregulation and inflammatory diseases”.

Both 1-3 beta glucans and beta sitosterol are classified as immuno-modulators. Which means that if the immune system needs to be strengthened, they do that – but if there is a risk of the immune system becoming over-reactive – creating a serious condition called a cytokine storm – they bring it back to normal.

They are therefore absolutely safe – classified as GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Whilst most people will initially be motivated to use a beta glucan supplement during the pandemic or in the winter flu season, many use them regularly. This helps to stimulate new immune cells, as the lifespan of one of the key immune cells – the neutrophil– is only a few days.

Beta glucans and cancer

We shouldn’t leave the topic without a further reference to the long-term work in many centres, particularly in Japan and Australia, showing the use of beta glucans as a supportive measure in cases of cancer. No-one is suggesting that beta glucans should be a primary therapy, but rather used in an ‘adjunct’ or supportive role. And there the evidence is persuasive.

According to Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety (June 2012), 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans have been successfully used as adjunctive therapy for cancerous tumours since 1980. I suspect most people haven’t heard about them in this context, because they are natural and our default tends more to be patented pharmaceutical drugs.

Beta glucans work in several ways to fight cancer. First, by protecting against toxic carcinogens, they can help prevent oncogenesis – the transformation of normal cells into cancerous cells of tumours – in the first place.

Second, beta glucans work to activate cancer-fighting immune cells, especially Natural Killer cells, which are vital to inhibiting cancer growth.

Thirdly, they may also help choke off a tumour’s blood supply and thus reduce cancer proliferation and prevent spread. Soy isoflavones are thought to have a similar effect.

My conclusion is that, alongside an enhanced Mediterranean type diet, 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans are a very worthwhile supplement to help ensure your immune system is working strongly as you get older.

Clinical trials indicate a preventative dose of 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans as 250 mg a day. Perhaps doubled in times of heightened risk. Cancer patients must, of course, consult their oncologist.

There are further details and research results elsewehere on this ImmunoShield site – at

Read the introduction to Colin Rose’s new book Delay Ageing

While you are here, I hope you’ll  forgive me mentioning that there is a lot more information on how to support your immune system naturally in my just-published book Delay Ageing. And in my other recent articles.


Evaluation of trained immunity by β-1, 3 (D)-glucan on murine monocytes in vitro and duration of response in vivo; Pablo Garcia-Valtanen; Immunol Cell Biol. 2017 Aug; 95(7): 601–610.

Stimulated hemopoiesis and enhanced survival following glucan treatment in sublethally and lethally irradiated mice; M.L.Patchen, T.J.MacVittie; International Journal of Immunopharmacology Volume 7, Issue 6, 1985

Molecular subtyping and antimicrobial susceptibility of Streptococcus dysgalactiae subspecies equisimilis isolates from clinically diseased pigs; Sang-Ik Oh et al; J.Vet.Sci

Beta Glucan: Supplement or Drug? From Laboratory to Clinical Trials; Vaclav Vetvicka et al; Molecules 2019, 24(7), 1251;

A randomized placebo-controlled trial of the efficacy of beta-sitosterol and its glucoside as adjuvants in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis. P.R. Donald, J.H. Lamprecht, M. Freestone, C.F.Albrecht, P.J.D. Bouic, D. Kotze, P.P. van Jaarsveld; International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, vol. 1 (5), pp. 518-522, July 1997

The effects of b-sitosterol (BSS) and b-sitosterol glucoside (BSSG) mixture on selected immune parameters of marathon runners: inhibition of post marathon immune suppression and inflammation. P.J.D. Bouic, P.P. van Jaarsveld, A. Clark, J.H. Lamprecht, M. Freestone and R.W. Liebenberg; International Journal of Sports Medicine

Effects on the Immune System. Akramienė D et al. Medicina (Kaunas). 2007;43(8):597-606.

Mechanism by which orally administered β-(1, 3)-glucans enhance the tumoricidal activity of antitumor monoclonal antibodies in murine tumor models. Hong F, Yan J, Baran JT, Allendorf DJ, Hansen RD, Ostroff GR, Xing PX, Cheung NK, Ross GD. 2004; J Immunol 173(2):797–806.

Beta glucan induces proliferation and activation of monocytes in peripheral blood of patients with advanced breast cancer. Demir G, Klein HO, Mandel-Molinas N, and Tuzuner N; International Immunopharmacology, Volume 7, Issue 1, January 2007, 113–116

Effect of Beta Glucan on White Blood Cell Counts and Serum Levels of IL-4 and IL-12 in Women with Breast Cancer Undergoing Chemotherapy: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention 2014