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Optimal Immunity and Nutritional Support

by Millie Barrett(more info)

listed in immune function, originally published in issue 207 - June 2013

What is Innate Immunity?

The human immune system is a complex structure made up of many separate parts that come together with the common goal of protecting us from disease and ill-health. Ill-health can come in many different guises: viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and yeasts. The immune system’s job is to fight off these foreign invaders as best it can and thereby allow us to lead full, happy and healthy lives.  However, we know that the immune system sometimes fails us and we do succumb to both mild, short-term illness such as a cough or a cold, as well as more severe, long-term degenerative illnesses that can be life-threatening. It is these life-threatening illnesses that we are concerned with at the Dove Clinic in Twyford, Hampshire.

Immune System

There are two main branches to the immune system: the innate and the adaptive (or acquired). The first is, as its name suggests, the one we are born with, while the second is gained through exposure to foreign pathogens, be that via vaccinations or direct disease exposure.  Both are equally important, but it is the innate immune system that we can support and strengthen through diet, supplementation and lifestyle. By strengthening the innate immune system we equip ourselves with more weapons with which to fight off disease, including life-threatening ones. It has been clinically proven that people with weaker innate immune systems succumb to more infections and are more likely to suffer life-threatening illness than people with robust innate immune systems.[1]

Innate immunity is our first line of defence against disease. It is non-specific in that it does not match antibodies to antigens in the way the adaptive immune system does. The innate system is a rapid-response unit and its cells are often referred to as the ‘foot soldiers’ of the immune system as they patrol around the body looking for foreign invaders to fight off. Components of the innate immune system are complement cells and white blood cells - neutrophils, macrophages and natural killer cells - that we rely on day in day out to keep us fit and healthy.

These cell types can engulf (eat) pathogens (phagocytosis), and release chemicals and other soluble factors to directly kill pathogens (oxidative burst). The complement proteins present in serum are also considered part of the innate immune system and mainly function to identify pathogenic cells for attack but also have antibacterial properties on their own. Generally, innate immune cells migrate to sites of infection via the bloodstream, following a trail of increasing concentrations of complement proteins to the site of infection, and neutralizing the pathogens by engulfing them and killing them.

If the target cell is small enough, the phagocyte will engulf the target, bringing it completely inside the immune cell. Once the target is inside, the phagocyte will release highly reactive oxygen compounds (oxygen superoxide, hydrogen peroxide etc.) and other microbiocidal agents, which kill the pathogen and very often the phagocytic cell. If the target is too large to be engulfed by the phagocyte, these same reactive agents are released outside the phagocyte in a process called oxidative burst. In addition to killing the target, oxidative burst will often kill or damage both the phagocytic cell and surrounding host tissue.

Therefore keeping the innate immune system strong is vital for our health. We are exposed to pathogens constantly, ranging from a common virus our child may bring home from school to much more harmful and potentially life-threatening viruses that can develop into growths or tumours. As health practitioners we want to maximize our patients’ innate immunity and there are various ways in which we can do this.

Supporting Innate Immunity

When it comes to supporting immunity we are told to:

  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables;
  • Get adequate sleep;
  • Take a reasonable amount of exercise;
  • Avoid long-term stress.

All of these diet and lifestyle tips are important and backed by solid scientific research, but there is one piece of advice missing from this list: take an immuno-enhancer containing beta 1-3,1-6 gluco polysaccharides.

Of all the natural compounds known to activate the immune system, the best documented and most effective is gluco polysaccharide, derived from a proprietary strain of yeast. Indeed, when the Department of Defence of a major NATO member evaluated over 300 potential immune-boosters, gluco polysaccharide had the highest score of all. This unique compound is part of a larger class of immune-enhancing carbohydrates called 1-3,1-6 beta glucans, generally found in common baker’s yeast.[2-7]

What is a Beta Glucan?

Beta glucans are complex molecules found in the cell walls of fungi and yeasts. These micro-organisms have always been a threat to the human species, and therefore the innate immune system long ago developed the ability to recognize beta glucans and react to them by mounting an immune response. As yeasts are so universal, the innate immune system became acclimatized to them and dependent on them to function at peak effectiveness.

This is the key point about why beta glucans are the most important immune-enhancer available to us now in the modern world. As modern technology effectively sterilized our food chain and much of our environment, levels of yeasts and other fungi in our food and immediate environment dropped away, and this lack of beta glucan exposure left the innate immune system weaker and out of balance. Adding beta glucan back into the diet restores the effectiveness of the innate immune system, with considerable health benefits. By doing so we are reminding the immune system of what it is supposed to do, we are supporting its natural activity that has evolved over millions of years. Finally on this point, two quotes that sum it up rather well:

“Our innate immune systems are designed to cope with constant priming, and depend on it to function properly.”[8]

“Life-long exposure to immune-primers clearly extends life”. [9]


Choosing a Beta Glucan Product

There are a number of different beta glucan products available in the UK today and they are popular with natural health practitioners when aiming to support a patient’s innate immunity. However, not all beta glucans are created equal and it is worth taking a minute to understand why.

The clinical team at the Dove Clinic in Hampshire uses a beta glucan product called Immiflex™ which contains a patented form of the 1-3,1-6 beta glucan polysaccharide called Wellmune WGP. Protected by 40 patents and patents pending, its efficacy is supported by eight clinical trials and $300m worth of scientific research. Wellmune WGP also has EFSA Novel Food status and is used by the US Pharmacopeia as the monograph by which other beta glucans are tested for purity and activity. The nutritional supplement Immiflex™ contains a therapeutic level of Wellmune WGP at 250mg per capsule, the same as the dose used in clinical trials.

One of the key differences between Wellmune and other beta glucan products is that the mechanism by which Wellmune works is fully understood and documented in peer-reviewed scientific journals.[10,11-17] Once swallowed, immune cells in the gastrointestinal tract take up Wellmune WGP and transport it to immune organs throughout the body. Within days Wellmune WGP is carried to the spleen, bone marrow and other immune organs. While in these organs, immune cells called macrophages digest Wellmune WGP into smaller fragments and slowly release them over a number of days. The fragments bind to neutrophils, via complement receptor 3 (CR3), which are the most abundant immune cells in the body. In fact, neutrophils account for 60-70% of all immune cells.

Primed by Wellmune WGP, the neutrophils now more quickly navigate to the site to protect the body. Unlike other immune health ingredients, Wellmune WGP enhances immune function without over stimulating the immune system. Immune boosters or stimulators may be harmful for some patients, especially those on immune-suppressant medication. Researchers discovered the mechanism of Wellmune WGP through a series of experiments, including those with CR3-deficient mice that confirmed the critical role this receptor plays in triggering an immune response.[18-20] Other studies tracked fluorescently dyed Wellmune WGP as immune cells transported it throughout the body. For an animated illustration of how Wellmune works in the body see this video:

The Latest Clinical Evidence on Wellmune WGP

Last year saw the publication of a number of research studies relating to the effects of Wellmune WGP on immune health and wellbeing. In August 2012 the results of a research study were published showing that taking Wellmune WGP (the beta glucan found only in Immiflex™) resulted in a 58% decrease in upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) and improved mood state in stressed women.[21] This was a study involving 122 healthy volunteers taking 250mg of Wellmune WGP or placebo daily for twelve weeks. The study results were consistent with data from other clinical studies demonstrating that Wellmune WGP can naturally enhance immune responses during periods of both high physical and psychological stress.

Also in 2012 the results of a double-blind placebo-controlled study were published demonstrating that Wellmune led to a 27% reduction in average allergy symptoms and a 52% reduction in severity of symptoms as well as improved quality of life for sufferers of ragweed allergy, one the most common types of hay fever type allergy in the UK.[22] In May 2012 results of a further study were presented at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in San Francisco. It was concluded that marathon runners who took Wellmune had fewer cold and flu symptoms following the event, and in the same month another study was published demonstrating that taking Wellmune caused an increase in circulating monocytes and cytokines post-exercise. [23,24]

These are just a few of the documented studies on Wellmune, you can see the whole list here:

Immune Support as Part of a Wider Holistic Approach Including Nutrition

Nutritional support for patients is a fundamental part of the holistic treatment programme offered in many multi-disciplinary integrated health centres these days. At the Dove Clinic in Hampshire all new patients and all those undergoing treatment programmes have the opportunity to meet with a nutritional therapist to discuss how their diet might influence their health outcomes. The purpose of this is to equip each patient with the best possible information in order to maximize his or her personal health outcomes. In complementary medicine we know that no two patients are alike and that each person needs individualized advice. This is especially true for nutritional support where we need to take into account many variables such as: eating habits, potential allergies or intolerances, nutrient deficiencies, drug interactions, likes and dislikes, time and economic pressures, as well as levels of motivation and commitment to change. Changes to eating habits do not happen overnight and the job of the nutritional therapist is to facilitate change, providing the tools and the information each patient needs.

For patients with life-threatening illness we can tell them what the latest research shows. There has been an explosion of research in recent years into how different nutrients and foods affect both our risk of developing life-threatening illness and our ability to survive it.[25] Patients want to know this information and they often don’t know where to look. Or they may have read something somewhere and acted on it but are unsure if they are doing the right thing. Supporting the body with the right nutrients and avoiding the wrong ones can and does make a difference to health outcomes.[26]

Green tea, garlic, ginger, turmeric, rosemary, cabbage, broccoli, raspberries, blackberries, organic red/black grapes, fermented soy beans, tomatoes, oyster and shiitake mushrooms, and olive oil are foods to encourage in a programme to support optimal nutrition for life-threatening illness. These foods are well-researched and recognised as supportive for better health outcomes.[27]

Eating a diet based on plant foods, cutting down on red meat, eating pulses and legumes regularly, including oily fish in the diet, avoiding processed meats like salamis and sausages, using herbs and spices liberally in the kitchen, keeping alcohol to a minimum, cutting down on sugar, maintaining acid / alkali balance - these are the fundamental principles of optimal nutritional support for our patients. Providing recipes and meal plans is a useful adjunct to the recommendations, as patients often know what they should be eating (and avoiding) but are at a loss for inspiration and practical meal ideas.

Supporting the innate immune system with Immiflex™ is an integral part of this treatment approach. In addition to the research studies referred to previously, there have also been studies published demonstrating the ability of Immiflex’s active ingredient Wellmune WGP to amplify phagocyte killing of tumour cells[28] and to enhance tumourcidial activity of anti-tumour monoclonal antibodies in studies with mice.[29,30] 

Nutritional support is equally important when working with chronic fatigue patients. It is important to ascertain what is causing the fatigue in the first place, as that will dictate the treatment programme including possible IV infusions, nutritional supplements and dietary advice. We need to explore the possibility of fungal dysbiosis in the gut as a common cause of chronic fatigue and act accordingly. The patient may primarily need anti-fungals / microbials and probiotics as well as nutrients to support energy production such as magnesium, CoQ10, D-ribose, acetyl L-carnitine, vitamin B12 and omega 3 fats for improved concentration and mood. Blood sugar balancing will be a key focus, avoiding sugars, yeasts and moulds in all their different guises and understanding where these may be lurking unexpectedly.

Again, patients need suggestions as to what they can eat, not just to be told what they can’t eat.

Physicians and practitioners at the Dove Clinic take optimal immunity and nutritional support seriously for all patients. People present with a wide variety of conditions; but supporting the innate immune system will always be a first port of call because without this we can’t even start to help them get better.


1.  Imai KMatsuyama SMiyake SSuga KNakachi K.  Natural cytotoxic activity of peripheral-blood lymphocytes and cancer incidence: an 11-year follow-up study of a general population. Lancet. Nov 25;356(9244):1795-9. 2000.

2.  Kernodle DS, Gates H and Kaiser AB. Prophylactic Anti-Infective Activity of Poly-(1-6)-beta-D-Glucapyranosyl-(1-3)-beta-D-Glucapyranose Glucan in a Guinea Pig Model of Staphylococcal Wound Infection. Antimicrob Agents & Chemotherapy 42:545-549. 1998.

3.  Wakshull E, Brunke-Reese D et al. PGG-glucan, a soluble beta-(1-3)-glucan, enhances the oxidative burst response, microbicidal activity, and activates an NF-kappa B-like factor in human PMN:evidence for a glycosphingolipid beta-(1-3)-glucan receptor. Immunopharmacology Feb;41(2):89-107. 1999.

4.  Mansell PWA, Ichinose I-I et al. Macrophage-mediated destruction of human malignant cells in vivo. J Nat Cancer Inst; 54:571-580. 1975.

5.  Hahn MG and Albersheim P. Host-pathogen interactions. XIV. Isolation and partial characterisation of an elicitor from yeast extract. Plant Physiol; 62:107. 1978.

6.  Robertsen B, Engstad RE and Jorgensen JB. Beta-glucans as Immunostimulants in fish. Immune Responses V. 1 Fair Haven, NJ, USA. 1994.

7.  Song YL and Hsieh YT. Immunostimulation of tiger shrimp hemocytes for generation of microbicidal substances: analysis of reactive oxygen species. Developmental and Comparative Immunology, Vol. 1,No. 3:201-209. 1994.

8.  Clayton P. Natural Defenses: Strengthening Your Immune System Against Modern Threats. Biothera. Eagan, Minnesota. 2009.

9.  Brousseau M and Miller SC. Enhancement of natural killer cells and increased survival of ageing mice fed daily Echinacea root extract from youth. Biogerontology 6(3):157-63. 2005.

10.  Goodridge H, Reyes C et al. Activation of the Innate Immune Receptor Dectin-1 upon Formation of a Phagocytic Synapse. Nature 472: 471-475. 2011.

11.  Rasmussen et al. Dynamics of Blood Components and Peritoneal Fluid During Treatment of Murine E. Coli Sepsis with beta-1,3-D-polyglucose Derivatives. Scand J immunol 63:73-80. 1985.

12.  Rasmussen LT and Seljelid R. Production of prostaglandin E2 and interluekin 1 by mouse peritoneal macrophages stimulated with beta-1, 3-D-glucan derivatized plastic beads. Scand J Immunol 26(6):731-736. 1987.

13.   Rasmussen LT and Seljelid R. The modulatory effect of lipoproteins on the release of interleukin 1 by human peritoneal macrophages stimulated with beta-1,3-D-polyglucose derivatives. Scan J Immunol 29:477-484. 1989.

14.   Rasmussen LT and Seljelid R. Dynamics of blood components and peritoneal fluid during treatment of murine E. coli sepsis with beta-1, 3-D-polyglucose derivatives. II. Interleukin 1, tumour necrosis factor, prostaglandin E2 and leukotriene B4. Scan J Immunol 32(4):333-340. 1990.

15.  Rasmussen LT and Seljelid R. 1990. Dynamics of blood components and peritoneal fluid during treatment of murine E. coli sepsis with beta-1, 3-D-polyglucose derivatives. I:Cells. Scan J Immunol 32(4):321-331. 1990.

16.   Rasmussen LT and Seljelid R. Novel immunomodulators with pronounced in vitro effects caused by stimulation of cytokine release. J Cell Biochem. 46:60-68. 1991.

17.  Rasmussen LT et al. Killing of E. Coli by mononuclear phagocytes and neutrophils stimulated in vitro with beta-1, 3-D-polyglucose derivatives. Microbiol Immunol 36(11):1173-1188.  1992.

18.  Williams DL et al. Protective effect of glucan in experimentally induced candidiasis. J Reticuloendothel; Soc 23:479-490. 1978.

19.  Williams DL and Diluzio NR. Glucan induced modification of experimental Staphylococcus aureus infection in normal, leukemic and immunosuppressed mice. Adv Exp Med Biol 121(A):291-306. 1979.

20.  Williams DL and Diluzio NR. Glucan-induced modification of murine viral hepatitis. Science 208:67-69. 1980.

21.  Talbott SM and Talbott JA. Baker’s Yeast Beta Glucan Supplement Reduces Upper Respiratory Tract Symptoms and Improves Mood State in Stressed Women. J Coll Am Nutr 31:4;295-300. 2012.

22.  Talbott SM and Talbott JA et al. Beta-Glucan Supplementation, allergy symptoms, and quality of life in self-described ragweed allergy sufferers. Food Science and Nutr. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.11. 2012.

23.  Navalta JA, Carpenter KC et al. Baker’s Yeast Beta Glucan Supplementation Reduces the Number of Cold/Flu Symptomatic Days After Completing a Marathon. Presented at the American College of Sports Medicine 59th Annual Meeting in 2012. Accepted for publication in the Journal of Dietary Supplements 2013.

24.  Carpenter KC, Breslin WL et al. Baker’s Yeast Beta Glucan Supplementation Increases Monocytes and Cytokines Post-exercise: implications for infection risk? Br J Nutr, First View Article:1-9. 2012.

25.  American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed at: on 13.03.13.

26.  World Cancer Research Fund /American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Washington, DC: AICR, 2007.

27.  Woollams C. The Rainbow Diet And How it Can Help You Beat Cancer. ISBN 978-0-9565391-2-1 Health Issues Ltd, Buckingham, UK. 2nd Ed. 2010.

28.  Li B, Allendorf DJ et al. Yeast B-Glucan Amplifies Phagocytic Killing of iC3b-Opxonized Tumor Cells via Complement Receptor 3-Syk-Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase Pathway. Journal of Immunology. 177:1661-1669. 2006.

29.  Hong F, Yan J, Baran JT et al. Mechanism by Which Orally-Administered B-1,3-Glucans Enhance the Tumorcidial Activity of AntiTumor Monoclonal Antibodies in Murine Tumor Models. Journal of Immunology. 173:797-806. 2004.

30.  Yan J, Allendorf DJ and Brandley B. Yeast Whole Glucan Particle B-Glucan in Conjunction with Anti-Tumour Monoclonal Antibodies to Treat Cancer. Expert Opinion on Biological Therapy. Vol. 5, No. 5, pp691-702. 2005.


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About Millie Barrett

Millie Barrett MA(Hons) BSc(Hons) mBANT CNHC is the Nutritional Therapist at The Dove Clinic, and is available for consultations with patients of the Dove Clinic in Twyford, Hampshire. Millie trained at the well respected Centre for Nutritional Education and Lifestyle Management [CNELM] in Wokingham, where she gained a BSc in Nutritional Therapy.  Since graduating in 2009, Millie helped set up and worked as a co-director at Key Nutrition, providing private consultations out of a Harley Street clinic, and as a Nuffield Health registered Nutritional Therapist.

In July 2011, Millie relocated from London to Hampshire with her young family and joined as European Nutripharm Administrator (The Dove Clinic’s sister company), helping with the distribution of Immiflex and Basica, later becoming The Dove Clinic’s Nutritional Therapist. Millie has a special interest in nutritional support for patients with life threatening illness, as well as supporting those with Chronic Fatigue, IBS and other digestive complaints.  She is a type 1 diabetic and therefore also has a keen interest in blood sugar control, prevention and management of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

If you would like to book a consultation with Millie to discuss how your diet and food choices could help manage your condition, please speak to the reception team at The Old Brewery, Twyford.  Millie can be contacted on Tel: 01962 718000;

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