The importance of a well-functioning and balanced immune system has become more apparent in recent decades. Various elements have however not yet been uncovered as shown, for example, in the uncertainty on immune system responses to COVID-19. Fungal beta-glucans are bioactive molecules with immunomodulating properties. Insights into the effects and function of beta-glucans, which have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, advances with the help of modern immunological and biotechnological methods. However, it is still unclear into which area beta-glucans fit best: supplements or medicine? This review has highlighted the potential application of fungal beta-glucans in nutrition and medicine, reviewing their formulation, efficacy, safety profile, and immunomodulating effects. The current status of dietary fungal glucans with respect to the European scientific requirements for health claims related to the immune system and defense against pathogens has been reviewed. Comparing the evidence base of the putative health effects of fungal beta-glucan supplements with the published guidance documents by EFSA on substantiating immune stimulation and pathogen defense by food products shows that fungal beta-glucans could play a role in supporting and maintaining health and, thus, can be seen as a good health-promoting substance from food, which could mean that this effect may also be claimed if approved. In addition to these developments related to food uses of beta-glucan-containing supplements, beta-glucans could also hold a novel position in Western medicine as the concept of trained immunity is relatively new and has not been investigated to a large extent. These innovative concepts, together with the emerging success of modern immunological and biotechnological methods, suggest that fungal glucans may play a promising role in both perspectives, and that there are possibilities for traditional medicine to provide an immunological application in both medicine and nutrition.
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