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This Food Supplement Can Help You Fight COVID, Study Finds

Beta-glucans, which are a structural component found in mushrooms and yeast, could prevent lung damage associated with COVID.

As more vaccines are delivered and administered across the country, the days where things feel normal again are finally in sight. Until then, although there's nothing you can do to make yourself fully immune to COVID-19, there are a number of foods you can eat that will boost your immunity. We learn more about how what we eat can help our immune systems every day—and in particular, a growing body of research is finding that food components called beta-glucans could be extremely helpful to our bodies in fighting infections like COVID.

Beta-glucans are structural components that are found in a number of foods, like oat, barley, yeast, mushrooms, and algae. In a recent comprehensive review of food ingredients that could help the body fight COVID, researchers examined preliminary evidence to support the potential use of beta-glucans to address COVID in the future. The review looks at one promising study done on beta-glucans extracted from shiitake mushrooms, led by Dr. Emma J. Murphy of Ireland's Athlone Institute of Technology. "There are two main structures of beta-glucans; one type is found in grain sources which have proven effects in reducing cholesterol and modulating the gut microbiome," Dr. Murphy tells Eat This, Not That! "The other type found in mushroom and yeast is known for its immunomodulatory activity. What this means is it can interact with our immune system."

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Beta-glucans can prime our immune system to be ready for an attack from invaders like bacteria or a virus. They can also relax the immune response during inflammation, Dr. Murphy explains, which is "extremely important as hyper inflammation can be more of a problem than the infection itself." More specifically, the study found that beta-glucans reduce the inflammatory response associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). ARDS is a type of lung damage that can be caused by a number of things, like pneumonia and severe cases of COVID-19.

"The exact way beta-glucans achieve this has not been fully established," Dr. Murphy says. "However, when we eat beta-glucans in food such as mushrooms they are transported to Peyer's patches in our small intestine." From there, beta-glucans make their way to the immune system. Dr. Murphy points out that ingesting beta-glucans as part of our diet, such as through shiitake mushrooms, or in extract form as a supplement both have the potential to boost our immune systems.

Dr. Charis Galanakis, the lead author of the comprehensive review, told Eat This, Not That! in an email that in addition to following the promising research on beta-glucans, one other thing you can do to reduce your COVID-risk right now is to ensure you don't have a vitamin D deficiency.

Naturally, even after you've loaded up on foods that contain beta-glucans and vitamin D, make sure to still practice the things that'll prevent you from getting and spreading COVID: wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands, and avoid crowds.

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Urvija Banerji
Urvija Banerji has written about food for publications like Atlas Obscura, Eater, and The Swaddle. Read more about Urvija