Beta-glucan is a fiber-type complex sugar (polysaccharide) derived from the cell wall of baker’s yeast, oat and barley fiber, and many medicinal mushrooms, such as maitake. In their natural states, yeast and mushrooms contain a mixture of beta-1,3-glucan and beta-1,6-glucan. Oats and barley contain a mixture of beta-1,3-glucan and beta-1,4-glucan. In addition to purified beta-1,3-glucan from these sources, you may see products listed as beta-1,3/1,6-glucan in the case of yeast-derived products and as beta-1,3/1,4-glucan when derived from oats. Similar (if not identical) properties have been shown for beta-glucan-rich extracts and purified beta-glucan derived from oats, baker’s yeast, and mushrooms.
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3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
2,900 to 15,000 mg daily
Beta-glucan is a type of soluble fiber that has been shown to lower total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
Beta-glucan is a type of soluble fiber molecule derived from the cell wall of baker’s yeast, oats and barley, and many medicinal mushrooms, such as maitake. Beta-glucan is the key factor for the cholesterol-lowering effect of oat bran.1 , 2 , 3 , 4 As with other soluble-fiber components, the binding of cholesterol (and bile acids) by beta-glucan and the resulting elimination of these substances in the feces is very helpful for reducing blood cholesterol.5 , 6 , 7 Results from a number of double-blind trials with either oat- or yeast-derived beta-glucan indicate typical reductions, after at least four weeks of use, of approximately 10% for total cholesterol and 8% for LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, with elevations in HDL (“good”) cholesterol ranging from zero to 16%.8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 For lowering cholesterol levels, the amount of beta-glucan used has ranged from 2,900 to 15,000 mg per day.
Liver Cirrhosis (Inulin, Pectin, Resistant Starch)
10 grams total fermentable fiber daily
In a study of people with cirrhosis, supplementing with fermentable fiber (containing equal parts of beta-glucan, inulin, pectin, and resistant starch) improved liver and brain function.
In a study of people with cirrhosis, supplementing with 10 grams of fermentable fiber per day (containing equal parts of beta-glucan, inulin, pectin, and resistant starch) for 30 days resulted in an improvement in liver function.13 The impaired brain function that often accompanies cirrhosis of the liver (hepatic encephalopathy) also improved.
Refer to label instructions
Beta-glucan activates white blood cells, which in turn can recognize and kill tumor cells, correct oxidative damage, and speed up recovery of damaged tissue.
Beta-glucan is a fiber-type polysaccharide (complex sugar) derived from the cell wall of baker’s yeast, oat and barley fiber, and many medicinal mushrooms, such as maitake. Numerous experimental studies in test tubes and animals have shown beta-glucan to activate white blood cells.14 , 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 In fact, there have been hundreds of research papers on beta-glucan since the 1960s.19 The research indicates that beta-1,3-glucan, in particular, is very effective at activating white blood cells known as macrophages and neutrophils. A beta-glucan–activated macrophage or neutrophil can recognize and kill tumor cells, remove cellular debris resulting from oxidative damage, speed up recovery of damaged tissue, and further activate other components of the immune system.20 , 21 Although the research in test tube and animal studies is promising, many questions remain about the effectiveness of beta-glucan as an oral supplement to enhance immune function in humans. Controlled trials are necessary to determine whether humans can benefit from beta-glucan, and in what amounts oral beta-glucan must be taken from meaningful effects.
For lowering cholesterol levels, the amount of beta-glucan used in clinical trials has ranged from 2,900 to 15,000 mg per day. For enhancing immune function, an effective amount has not yet been determined due to the lack of studies in this application. However, manufacturers of beta-glucan products usually recommend between 50 and 1,000 mg daily (to be taken on an empty stomach), although some products contain as much as 500 mg per capsule.
Beta-glucan is found in the cell walls of many yeast and cereal fibers, such as oats, wheat, and barley. As a dietary supplement, beta-glucan is available in liquid form as well as in capsules and tablets.
Because beta-glucan is not an essential nutrient, deficiencies do not occur.
1. Bell S, Goldman VM, Bistrian BR, et al. Effect of beta-glucan from oats and yeast on serum lipids. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 1999;39:189-202 [review].
2. Behall KM, Scholfield DJ, Hallfrisch J. Effect of beta-glucan level in oat fiber extracts on blood lipids in men and women. J Am Coll Nutr 1997;16:46-51.
3. Braaten JT, Wood PJ, Scott FW, et al. Oat beta-glucan reduces blood cholesterol concentration in hypercholesterolemic subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr 1994;48:465-74.
4. Davidson MH, Dugan LD, Burns JH, et al. The hypocholesterolemic effects of beta-glucan in oatmeal and oat bran. A dose-controlled study. JAMA 1991;265:1833-9.
5. Wood PJ. Physicochemical properties and physiological effects of the (1----3)(1----4)-beta-D-glucan from oats. Adv Exp Med Biol 1990;270:119-27.
6. Uusitupa MI, Miettinen TA, Sarkkinen ES, et al. Lathosterol and other non-cholesterol sterols during treatment of hypercholesterolaemia with beta-glucan-rich oat bran. Eur J Clin Nutr 1997;51:607-11.
7. Lia A, Hallmans G, Sandberg AS, et al. Oat beta-glucan increases bile acid excretion and a fiber-rich barley fraction increases cholesterol excretion in ileostomy subjects. Am J Clin Nutr 1995;62:1245-51.
8. Bell S, Goldman VM, Bistrian BR, et al. Effect of beta-glucan from oats and yeast on serum lipids. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 1999;39:189-202 [review].
9. Nicolosi R, Bell SJ, Bistrian BR, et al. Plasma lipid changes after supplementation with beta-glucan fiber from yeast. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70:208-12.
10. Behall KM, Scholfield DJ, Hallfrisch J. Effect of beta-glucan level in oat fiber extracts on blood lipids in men and women. J Am Coll Nutr 1997;16:46-51.
11. Braaten JT, Wood PJ, Scott FW, et al. Oat beta-glucan reduces blood cholesterol concentration in hypercholesterolemic subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr 1994;48:465-74.
12. Uusitupa MI, Ruuskanen E, Makinen E, et al. A controlled study on the effect of beta-glucan-rich oat bran on serum lipids in hypercholesterolemic subjects: relation to apolipoprotein E phenotype. J Am Coll Nutr 1992;11:651-9.
13. Liu Q, Duan ZP, Ha DK, et al. Synbiotic modulation of gut flora: effect on minimal hepatic encephalopathy in patients with cirrhosis. Hepatology 2004;39:1441-9.
14. Czop JK. The role of beta-glucan receptors on blood and tissue leukocytes in phagocytosis and metabolic activation. Pathol Immunopathol Res 1986;5:286-96.
15. Wakshull E, Brunke-Reese D, Lindermuth J, et al. PGG-glucan, a soluble beta-(1,3)-glucan, enhances the oxidative burst response, microbicidal activity, and activates an NF-kappa B-like factor in human PMN: evidence for a glycosphingolipid beta-(1,3)-glucan receptor. Immunopharmacology 1999;41:89-107.
16. Czop JK, Kay J. Isolation and characterization of beta-glucan receptors on human mononuclear phagocytes. J Exp Med 1991;173:1511-20.
17. Czop JK, Puglisi AV, Miorandi DZ, Austen KF. Perturbation of beta-glucan receptors on human neutrophils initiates phagocytosis and leukotriene B4 production. J Immunol 1988;141:3170-6.
18. Estrada A, Yun CH, Van Kessel A, et al. Immunomodulatory activities of oat beta-glucan in vitro and in vivo. Microbiol Immunol 1997;41:991-8.
19. Ooi VE, Liu F. Immunomodulation and anti-cancer activity of polysaccharide-protein complexes. Curr Med Chem 2000;7:715-29 [review].
20. Ross GD, Vetvicka V, Yan J, et al. Therapeutic intervention with complement and beta-glucan in cancer. Immunopharmacology 1999;42:61-74.
21. Di Renzo L, Yefenof E, Klein E. The function of human NK cells is enhanced by beta-glucan, a ligand of CR3 (CD11b/CD18). Eur J Immunol 1991;21:1755-8.
Last Review: 07-08-2014
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