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The Importance of Research on Ingredients for Immune Health

Sonja Nodland Headshot
Sonja Nodland, Kerry ProActive Health Principal Scientist, provides further insight into questions on the role of nutrition in immune system functioning, and the importance of research on immune health ingredients that may be best suited to support our overall health and wellness, raised in Kerry’s webcast titled “On the Horizon”, with Professor Damien McLoughlin, University College, Dublin.

Q: What role does nutrition play in supporting the immune system?

A: One of the ways to enhance immunity is to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and other foods. This gives us exposure to lots of different kinds of molecules and really helps to educate our immune system. Education, as in many things in life, is the key here.

Nutrition is essential to immune system functioning. When we eat, food gives us energy and a lot of important nutrients. Many of these nutrients are absolutely critical for making the weapons the immune system uses—the cells and molecules that our immune system uses to defend our body.

Q: What does it mean to educate the immune system?

A: A lesser-appreciated part of our diet is that it actually helps educate the immune system. Education is a pretty complex process; it’s been studied by scientists for at least the last 30 years. One of the ways the immune system is educated is that it interacts with these larger molecules that are present in our immune system, as well as in our microbiomes. This interaction ‘teaches’ the immune system what is a threat and what is a friend.

If the immune system sees, for example, fragments of dead viruses, or bacteria, in the right context, it understands that this might be a pathogen. Conversely, the immune system ‘learns’ to recognize that some molecules, like those from food, are innocuous. As well, the immune system can further learn to recognize helpful molecules, like gut bacteria that we might want to reside in our microbiomes.

Q: As peoples’ diets have changed over the years, has this translated into an impact on the immune system?

A: Although convenience foods, growing in popularity from about the mid-20th century onward, and their processing techniques may be associated with reduced availability of nutrients in food, the good news is with greater interest in cleaner eating, the tide is turning. Food and beverage manufacturers are now focusing on foods with a ‘better-for-you’ health halo. And while this is an encouraging trend, today’s increasingly health-conscious consumers are looking for even more options to support their health. This is where functional ingredients with immune-supporting properties can make a positive difference in the impact of diet on immunity.


Q: What is the role of yeast beta glucans, and how do they support immune health?

A: While diet is critical to immune health, Kerry’s recent consumer survey found that consumers are interested in maintaining immunity beyond diet alone, and are looking to functional foods, beverages, and supplements fortified with immune-supporting ingredients. As well, research confirms that the consumption of foods and beverages with Wellmune®, a natural baker’s yeast beta glucan immune health ingredient, is a promising strategy for supporting immune system function.

Especially critical to the efficacy of a yeast beta glucan is its purity and quality. One of the best ways to ensure an ingredient’s efficacy is to understand its manufacturing processes, and how these processes impact the ingredient’s biological activity.


Q: What does Wellmune®’s research show?

A: The research supports the efficacy of Wellmune as an immune health ingredient. Wellmune has over 15 years of studies showing how it works in the body, and its mechanism of action, resulting in a great portfolio of efficacy research. Unlike other yeast beta glucans, Wellmune is the only ingredient supported by over a dozen published, peer-reviewed clinical studies. Research validates Wellmune’s unique ability to help strengthen general immune health across all ages.

Additionally, a review, published in the Molecular Nutrition & Food Research Journal, shows that supplementing with beta glucans like Wellmune can support the body’s natural defenses. The study focuses on beta glucans’ mechanism of action as immunomodulators, exploring the idea that they ‘train’ the body’s immune cells, triggering changes that help fight off pathogens. The paper also evaluates clinical trials on the benefits of supplementing with beta glucans.


Q: What is the future of immunity and foods and beverages?

A: As people become even more attuned to preserving their health, supporting immunity is a big part of the overall picture. Yet with so many claims and promises out there, it’s important to understand what makes an ingredient particularly effective. Our survey shows that consumers are doing their own research. An ingredient’s transparency when it comes to backing up its claims with research support helps consumers better understand the value the ingredient can add to their immune health. As well, formulating with science-backed ingredients helps manufacturers to deliver the benefits consumers want most.

The idea of using science to select immune-health ingredients in foods and beverages will continue to be top-of-mind for consumers and manufacturers alike. In our consumer survey, we found that consumers want ingredients they can trust, that have value, and that are science-backed. Scientific support–the research that demonstrates that the ingredient is efficacious, that it is safe, and that the claims that are made about what it can do actually are true, helps manufacturers to build trust in their products and consumers to understand the benefits the product confers. All of this makes choosing the right product for immune support much less daunting for consumers.


Wellmune is committed to ongoing research to fully understand the relationship between beta glucan supplementation and human immune function. For more information on how Wellmune can help manufacturers create a quality immune health product, contact one of our experts.

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