Prolonged and high-intensity exercise affects immune function and leads to an increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) in endurance athletes. The increased incidence of URTI symptoms may negatively affect athletic performance. Various nutritional supplements have been tested in the last decade for their ability to prevent developing of URTIs or reduce their incidence. One of the most promising nutritional supplements is β-glucan, a well-known immunomodulator with positive effects on functioning of immunocompetent cells. However, β-glucans are a diverse group of molecules that vary in macromolecular structure, solubility, viscosity, molecular weight and biological activity. This fact is supported by results from recent human clinical studies where β-glucans of different origin and properties differed in ability to prevent or reduce incidence of URTIs in athletes. It has been found that pleuran, a unique insoluble β-glucan isolated from mushroom Pleurotus ostreatus, significantly reduced the incidence of URTI symptoms in athletes. In addition, it was able to increase the number of circulating natural killer cells and to prevent reduction of natural killer cell activity. Contrarily, soluble oat β-glucan supplementation did not alter URTI incidence in endurance athletes. This difference suggests that the immunomodulatory capacity of β-glucans is strongly dependent on solubility and structural factors such as backbone structure and degree of branching. This review refers to using pleuran as a natural supplement that is able to protect endurance athletes against development of URTI.
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