What is beta-glucan? Heart-healthy fiber explained

Beta-glucan is a type of fiber that is responsible for many of the health-promoting properties of foods like oats, wheat, and barley.

It has been extensively studied for its effects on heart health and cholesterol levels, and has been shown to boost immunity and stabilize blood sugar.

As such, you may be wondering how to increase your intake of beta glucan to reap its many health benefits.

This article takes an in-depth look at beta-glucan, including what it is, how it works, and how it might affect your health.

There are two main categories of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that dissolves in water and forms a thick gel-like substance. In contrast, insoluble fiber does not dissolve. Instead, it absorbs fluid as it passes through your digestive tract (1).

Beta-glucan is a specific form of soluble dietary fiber. It is found in the cell walls of certain types of plants and in certain yeasts, bacteria, fungi and algae. You can also find it in supplement form.

It has been linked with a long list of potential health benefits and has been widely studied for its ability to lower cholesterol, decrease inflammation, improve blood sugar management, and more (2).

Summary

Beta-glucan is a type of soluble fiber found in the cell walls of some plants. It is available in foods and supplements and associated with a variety of health benefits.

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

This increases the time it takes for your body to digest food, which may allow you to feel full for longer (1, 2).

Beta-glucan also slows the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. This can help stabilize blood sugar and improve blood sugar regulation (1, 2).

Additionally, this fiber reduces the absorption of cholesterol in your digestive tract to support healthy blood cholesterol levels (1, 2).

Summary

Beta-glucan moves slowly through your digestive tract. It can help stabilize blood sugar and reduce cholesterol absorption to support heart health.

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

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

Good sources include (2):

  • Oats
  • barley
  • sorghum
  • rye
  • But
  • triticale
  • corn
  • durum wheat
  • rice
  • mushrooms
  • seaweed

Additionally, fiber is found in certain types of bacteria and fungi, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is used to make nutritional yeast, wine, beer, and some baked goods. However, that doesn’t mean that alcoholic drinks are a good source of beta-glucan (3).

Summary

Beta-glucan is found in grains like barley, oats, sorghum, and rye, as well as in fungi, algae, and some types of yeast.

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

Improves heart health

Several studies have shown that beta-glucan can 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 oatmeal could reduce the risk of cardiac disease (4).

This is because fiber can lower total and LDL (bad cholesterol) cholesterol levels in your blood, both of which are risk factors for heart disease (5, 6).

According to one study, consuming 3 grams of beta-glucan per day for 8 weeks reduced LDL cholesterol levels by 15% and total cholesterol by almost 9% (7).

Beta-glucan is also rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that can help neutralize harmful free radicals, prevent inflammation, and protect against chronic diseases like heart disease (8).

Regulates blood sugar

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

According to a review of 4 studies, taking 2.5 to 3.5 grams of beta-glucan daily for 3 to 8 weeks may lower fasting blood sugar and improve long-term blood sugar regulation in people with diabetes type 2 (9).

Other studies have shown that adding beta-glucan to meals containing carbohydrates may reduce blood sugar and insulin levels after eating (ten).

Additionally, another large review reported that consuming more grain fiber, including beta-glucan, may be associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes (11).

Stimulates the immune system

While more research in humans is needed, some studies suggest beta-glucan may be beneficial for immune health.

In fact, several animal and test-tube studies have shown that beta-glucan may help activate immune cells and protect against infection (12).

Specifically, beta-glucan has been shown to increase the activity of certain types of immune cells, including macrophages, neutrophils, and monocytes (13).

Additionally, other test-tube and animal studies have shown that beta-glucan may reduce the levels of several markers used to measure inflammation, including tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-1 beta. (IL-1β) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) (14, 15, 16).

Summary

Beta-glucan can promote heart health, stabilize blood sugar levels, and boost immune function.

Beta-glucan supplements are often used to improve heart health because they can lower levels of total and LDL (bad cholesterol) cholesterol.

Like other fiber supplements, they can also increase your fiber intake, improve blood sugar regulation, promote digestive health and regularity, and support weight management (17).

In some cases, beta-glucan is even applied topically to speed up wound healing and tissue repair (18).

In addition, this fiber is sometimes used as a natural cancer treatment, thanks to its ability to stimulate the activity of immune cells in your body (19).

However, since most research on the effects of beta-glucan on cancer is limited to test-tube and animal studies, more studies in humans are needed.

Summary

Beta glucan supplements are used to increase fiber intake and promote heart health, blood sugar regulation, digestive health, and weight management. It is also sometimes used in the treatment of cancer, although more research is needed.

According to the FDA, consuming 3 grams of beta-glucan per day may help lower cholesterol levels (2).

Fortunately, most people can easily meet this recommendation by enjoying a variety of high-fiber foods as part of a well-balanced diet.

For example, 1 cup (81 grams) of dry oats and 1/2 cup (100 grams) of raw barley contain approximately 6.5 grams and 20 grams of beta-glucan, respectively. This equates to approximately 1.6 grams of beta-glucan per 1/2 cup of cooked oats and 4 grams per 1/2 cup of cooked barley (2).

Still, some people choose to take supplements to increase their intake.

Keep in mind that not all supplements are created equal. If you choose to buy supplements, go for products made by reputable retailers that have undergone third-party testing to ensure safety and quality.

Also, be aware that beta-glucan supplements may interfere with certain medications, including immunosuppressants and those used to treat diabetes or high blood pressure (20).

Finally, taking a fiber supplement, including beta-glucan, can cause digestive side effects like nausea, bloating or diarrhea in some people, especially if you are not used to eating. lots of fiber (21).

Therefore, it is best to talk to your doctor before using beta glucan supplements, especially if you are taking these medications or have any underlying health issues.

Summary

While most people can get enough beta glucan from their diet, taking a supplement can be an easy way to increase your intake.

Beta-glucan is a type of soluble fiber that is found naturally in a variety of food sources, including oats, barley, sorghum, and rye.

It has been linked to numerous health benefits and may help lower cholesterol levels, improve blood sugar management, and support immune health.

It is also widely available in supplement form and used as a natural treatment for many different conditions.

Yet the best way to increase your intake is to enjoy a variety of nutritious, fiber-rich foods as part of a healthy diet.


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