Phone

Supplements

beta-glucans
What Is It?
Health Benefits
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Cautions


What Is It?

Beta-glucans are a form of natural soluble dietary fiber found in foods, including grains (such as barley, oats, and corn bran) and mushrooms (such as maitake, reishi, and shiitake). Interestingly, one of the richest concentrated sources of beta-glucans is found in the cell walls of baker's yeast (Saccharomyces Cerevisae). Regardless of the source, however, all beta-glucans are carbohydrates formed by a string of glucose molecules. They are then absorbed into the body through the intestines.

Beta-glucans are also available in various forms as dietary supplements. Manufacturers extract the key compounds from the soluble part of fibrous foods or from baker's yeast, and then remove all fats and proteins to refine and purify the extract. Packaged in pills and capsules, the beta-glucans are then sold to prevent or treat various ailments.

Health Benefits

Many uses have been proposed for beta-glucan dietary supplements--from promoting wound healing and lowering cholesterol levels to fighting cancer. Scientific research papers on beta-glucans abound. To date, however, clinical trials only support a few uses for this substance.

Specifically, beta-glucans may help to:

  • Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels. Glucans that are soluble in water (such as a form called 1,6 glucans, which are extracted from whole oats) can help to reduce cholesterol levels when consumed as part of the healthy low-fat diet.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that companies such as Quaker Oats can make the claim that their products help to reduce the risk of heart disease--with certain stipulations. A serving must contain at least 0.75 grams of beta-glucan; the product must be used as part of a low-saturated-fat, low-cholesterol diet; and it has to contain no more than 3 grams of fat and no more than 1 gram of saturated fat. Many oatmeal and oat bran cereals and other products now meet the beta-glucan and other qualifications as heart disease preventers.

    Clinical trials have even shown that the higher the beta-glucan content of the oat cereal (hot or cold), the greater the cholesterol-lowering effect. However, there is still only limited evidence that beta-glucans taken in pill form can have this cholesterol-lowering effect.

  • Enhance immune-system power. Beta-glucans appear to indirectly intensify the immune system's ability to fight off infection, apparently by activating certain white blood cells called macrophages. This has been shown in laboratory tests. Produced by the bone marrow, macrophages patrol the body, gobbling up such foreign invaders as bacteria and fungi. Macrophages must be stimulated (or "activated") in order to become functioning members of the immune system's A-Team. However, whether or not this activation by beta-glucans actually alters the outcome of any specific condition has yet to be proven.

  • Protect against cancer and the development of tumors. Cancer researchers are conducting a variety of clinical trials to determine whether beta-glucans can boost the ability of the body's immune system to kill cancer cells. In one laboratory study, antibody medications were more effective in killing cancer cells when they were given in conjunction with beta-glucans. A number of follow-up clinical trials are under way.

  • Dosage Information

    Special tips:

    --Beta-glucans can be challenging to extract and process for use in supplement form. Numerous companies now compete to sell beta-glucan products, and they often suggest doses that have not been carefully correlated with good clinical studies.

    --As a nutritional supplement, capsules of beta-glucans are quite expensive.

    Until further research can justify the usefulness of beta-glucans for conditions requiring immune enhancement, we at WholeHealthMD recommend limiting the use of beta-glucans to cholesterol lowering. Look for good food sources (such as oatmeal) because you'll need high levels of beta-glucans (3,000-15,000 mg a day) to be effective. Capsules (500-1,000 mg) are not meant to provide such high doses.

  • For lowering cholesterol levels: One cup of an oat-based cereal such as Cheerios, 3 tablespoons of dry oatmeal (rolled oats), or 2 tablespoons of oat bran appear to provide the beta-glucan requirement.

  • For enhancing the immune system and protecting against cancer: Manufacturers suggest 500-1,000 mg one to three times a day. However, there is little apparent sound research upon which to base the recommendation that beta-glucan supplements be taken for these purposes.

  • Guidelines for Use

  • Food is the best source of beta-glucans. For best absorption of a capsule, take beta-glucans once a day with water, either 30 minutes before eating or at least an hour after a meal.
  • If you are considering taking beta-glucan supplements to prevent or fight off a certain type of cancer, consult your oncologist first. The best way to get beta-glucans that are effective for your condition may be to enter a clinical trial.

  • General Interaction

  • There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with beta-glucans.

  • Possible Side Effects

  • There are no known side effects associated with the use of beta-glucan products.

  • Cautions

  • If you are prone to yeast allergies, take care when using a beta-glucan product derived from baker's yeast. Such a product has to be properly purified to prevent an allergic reaction; there should be no yeast left in the product and the protein level should be low.
  • If you have an autoimmune condition such as lupus or Raynaud's syndrome, be sure to check with your doctor before taking an immune system-stimulant such as beta-glucans. While many sources claim that it will help such conditions, autoimmune diseases vary widely in the way they present themselves and progress.

  • Date Published: 04/18/2005
    Previous  |  Next
    > Printer-friendly Version Return to Top