You probably know that eating fiber can be good for your health.
Did you know that there are different types of fiber that act differently in your digestive system?
While all fiber is beneficial, certain forms of fiber are known for specific health benefits.
Beta-glucans are a type of soluble fiber, one of the two fiber types.
Beta-glucans and soluble fiber are most well-known for their ability to lower cholesterol, but you might not be aware that they can do more than that!
Keep reading to find out seven health benefits of beta glucan.
What is beta-glucan?
Beta-glucan, or β-glucan, is a type of dietary fiber found in plant-based foods. Beta-glucan is a type of soluble fiber, which means it absorbs water and swells in your digestive system.
The best sources of beta-glucan are grains such as oats, barley, sorghum, and rye, as well as certain mushrooms and seaweed.
Dietary fiber is already known for its many health benefits, including digestive, immune, and heart health. Beta-glucan, in particular, has been studied for its health-promoting features, which we’ll cover later on in this article.
How exactly do beta-glucans work?
Beta-glucans are a type of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber slows down digestion because it binds to water in your digestive tract, forming a gel. (Soluble fiber is also called viscous fiber.) This increase in digestion time can help make you feel fuller and more satisfied after eating.
Fiber like beta-glucan acts as a prebiotic, which means it helps feed the beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. These healthy bacteria are often referred to as your microbiome and are essential for your digestive and immune health.
Having an altered microbiome can result in adverse health effects, including digestive disturbances, sleep problems, fatigue, skin irritations, food intolerances, and even autoimmune diseases.
7 health benefits of beta-glucan
1. Lowering cholesterol
Beta-glucans have been used to treat high cholesterol since the 1960s (1). High cholesterol is one of many risk factors for developing heart disease, the leading cause of death among men and women worldwide.
Beta-glucans help lower LDL cholesterol, which is known as “bad cholesterol” because it can cause inflammation and promote plaque buildup in your arteries. Over time, plaque buildup can cause a blockage of blood flow, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.
While they lower LDL cholesterol, beta-glucans don’t lower HDL cholesterol, which is known as “good cholesterol.” Unlike LDL cholesterol, high HDL levels are beneficial and can reduce your risk factors for heart disease.
Studies have shown doses of 3 grams of beta-glucan daily can reduce LDL cholesterol by 5-10% in people with normal and high cholesterol levels (2).
2. Benefits your immune system
Beta-glucan is well-known for its immune system enhancing benefits.
Your immune system impacts how often and how severely you get sick, plays a role in whether you have allergies or not, and can help fight against cancerous cells.
According to a David Heber, a professor at UCLA Health, “Seventy percent of the immune system is located in the gut.”
Beta-glucans feed the beneficial bacteria in your digestive system, which influences your immune system. These beneficial bacteria impact immune cells in your gut. If you don’t have enough healthy bacteria in your gut, your immune cells may be lacking, predisposing you to illness.
Beta-glucans protect you against infections from bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. They also prevent cancer promotion and prevention through their anti-tumor effects (3).
Beta-glucans have been studied for their effectiveness as an adjuvant to the COVID vaccine (4). An adjuvant helps vaccines work better by boosting your immunity against the virus you’re being vaccinated against. If your vaccine does a more efficient job protecting you against COVID, you might be less likely to develop long-lived symptoms known as “long COVID.”
3. Supports healthy blood sugar levels
Beta-glucans slow the emptying of your stomach during digestion. When you digest food more slowly, your body can more efficiently control the rise in blood sugar levels by releasing enough insulin in response to the rise.
If you have diabetes and experience blood sugar spikes, increasing your fiber intake might help reduce these spikes by slowing glucose absorption. According to studies, beta-glucans help reduce postprandial blood sugar levels (blood sugar levels after eating) (5).
Reducing postprandial blood sugar levels is an effective way to lower hemoglobin A1c levels, which indicates long-term blood sugar control. It’s estimated that postprandial blood sugar levels contribute to 70% of the A1c level among patients with an A1c below 7.3% (6).
That means that even if you have well-controlled fasting blood sugar, your A1c can still be high if your postprandial blood sugars aren’t controlled.
4. May promote better sleep
Serotonin is a hormone that helps promote healthy sleep cycles by promoting REM sleep, or deep sleep. Your gut produces about 95% of your body’s supply of serotonin. Beta-glucans help feed the bacteria in your gut that manufacture serotonin, which means that they might help promote healthy sleep patterns.
Having low serotonin levels can also impact your overall mood and lead to depression and anxiety symptoms.
5. Might aid in weight loss
Beta-glucans can help improve satiety by slowing the emptying of your stomach. The longer you feel satiated after eating, the less likely you’ll be to experience hunger pangs and cravings that can derail you from your weight loss efforts.
Soluble fibers like beta-glucans are especially helpful at boosting satiety since they increase digestion time. Insoluble fiber can shorten digestion time, so this might not provide similar results in terms of appetite and satiety.
6. Might promote healthy blood pressure levels
Eating fiber-rich foods as a part of a healthy diet can benefit those with hypertension (high blood pressure). Fiber comes from plant foods which contain beneficial antioxidants and nutrients that support healthy blood pressure levels.
According to a study, beta-glucans helped reduce blood pressure levels among subjects considered obese (8).
Controlling your blood pressure can help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and other health conditions.
7. Reducing inflammation
Inflammation is a key factor driving many of today’s most prevalent chronic diseases. While inflammation can be beneficial in some cases (such as wound healing), chronic low-grade inflammation can be detrimental to your health.
Inflammation plays a role in:
- Diabetes and other metabolic diseases
- Autoimmune diseases
- Cardiovascular disease
- Gastrointestinal diseases
- Lung diseases, including asthma
- Neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s
- Certain types of cancer
- Mental illnesses, including depression
How do you take beta-glucan?
Beta-glucan is a popular ingredient in dietary supplements. Some beta-glucan supplements may be made from yeast, whereas others come from oats.
It’s best to try to get beta-glucan from whole foods whenever you can. Here is a list of foods with the highest beta-glucan content:
- Reishi mushrooms
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Nutritional yeast
- Rye bread
- Whole wheat bread
- Baker’s yeast
When you get beta-glucan from foods, you also get other benefits such as protein, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
If you choose to take beta-glucan in a supplement form, you’ll need to take an effective dose.
According to studies, effective dosages of beta-glucan range from 100 to 500 milligrams daily for immune system benefits (10). If you’re taking beta-glucan in order to reduce your cholesterol levels, the recommended dosage is 3 grams daily.
The FDA allows products containing at least 750 mg of beta-glucans to have a health claim that they might reduce heart disease risk.
Beta-glucan is typically sold in capsule form. Beta-glucan supplements may be marketed as beta 1-3/1-6, which classifies wherein the beta-glucan molecule the chains are connected. 1-3/1-6 chains are known for their immune benefits, whereas a 1,4 linked glucan doesn’t have the same benefits.
Beta-glucan is generally considered very safe with no known serious risks.
If you take too much beta-glucan, though, you may have side effects like nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting. Taking large doses of fiber can also impact the way certain medications work, so you should ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you take prescription medications.
How long does it take for beta-glucan to work?
If you’re taking beta-glucan for a specific goal, such as reducing cholesterol, it can take several weeks to see its potential effects. The studies that used beta-glucan in order to reduce cholesterol were done over several weeks, usually around 8-12.
Beta-glucans (β-glucans) are a type of soluble fiber found in plant foods but are also derived from baker’s yeast. Oats, barley, sorghum, and whole-wheat bread are among the best sources of beta-glucans, as well as certain types of mushrooms.
Beta-glucans have several potential health benefits, including lowering cholesterol, promoting healthy blood pressure levels, supporting healthy sleep cycles, supporting your immune system, promoting healthy blood sugar levels, aiding in weight loss, and reducing inflammation.
You can take beta-glucan in supplement form, but getting it from whole foods is often ideal since you’ll also be getting vitamins, minerals, and other aspects of whole foods.
Find out about Ben’s Beta Glucan Supplement.