What is Beta-Glucan? What Are Its Health Benefits?

Beta-glucans are a type of fiber found in the cell walls of certain yeasts, bacteria, fungi, and algae (like seaweed), along with other plants like oats, barley, wheat, rye, and mushrooms. Beta-glucans serve as a source of energy and structure in these various plant species.

Most grain-based beta-glucans are soluble fibers, which means they dissolve in water and are typically fermentable (i.e., prebiotic) in your digestive tract. Beta-glucans from bacteria, fungi, and yeast are typically insoluble in water.

More importantly, as a 2019 review in Molecules details, beta-glucans are a unique family of fibers that are biologically active, a characteristic that plays a role in their potent health benefits.

How does beta-glucan work?

Like other types of soluble fiber, beta-glucan slows the passage of food as it travels through your intestines.

This increases how long it takes your body to digest food, which can keep you feeling full for longer.

Beta-glucan also slows the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. This can help stabilize blood sugar levels and improve blood sugar regulation.

Additionally, this fiber reduces the absorption of cholesterol in your digestive tract to support healthy blood cholesterol levels.

Benefits of beta-glucan

Beta-glucan has been linked to a variety of health benefits.

 

Boosts heart health

Several studies have found that beta-glucan may promote heart health and protect against heart disease.

In fact, in 1997, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a health claim stating that beta-glucan from whole oats, oat bran, and whole oat flour might reduce the risk of heart disease

This is because the fiber can lower the levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood, both of which are risk factors for heart disease

According to one study, consuming 3 grams of beta-glucan per day for 8 weeks decreased levels of LDL cholesterol by 15% and reduced total cholesterol by nearly 9%

Beta-glucan is also rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that can help neutralize harmful free radicals, prevent inflammation, and protect against chronic conditions like heart disease.

Regulates blood sugar levels

Some research suggests that beta-glucan could improve blood sugar management.

According to a review of 4 studies, taking 2.5–3.5 grams of beta-glucan daily for 3–8 weeks can reduce fasting blood sugar levels and improve long-term blood sugar regulation in people with type 2 diabetes.

Other studies have found that adding beta-glucan to carb-containing meals might reduce blood sugar and insulin levels after eating.

What’s more, another large review reported that consuming more cereal fiber, including beta-glucan, could be associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Stimulates the immune system

Although more research on humans is needed, some studies suggest that beta-glucan could benefit immune health.

In fact, multiple animal and test-tube studies have found that beta-glucan could help activate immune cells and protect against infection.

More specifically, beta-glucan has been shown to increase the activity of certain types of immune cells, including macrophages, neutrophils, and monocytes.

Food sources of beta-glucan

Beta-glucan is found naturally in a variety of food sources. 

Grains like barley and oats contain the highest concentration of beta-glucan, though it’s also found in other foods.

Good sources include oats, barley, sorghum, rye, maize, triticale, wheat, durum wheat, rice, mushrooms, and seaweed.

 

Source: www.healthline.com