We know that dietary fiber is very good for us because it plays such an important role in keeping the digestive system running properly, lowering cholesterol, and keeping blood sugar levels under control. But did you know that the soluble fiber, beta glucan, provides more benefits than your average fiber?
What is Beta Glucan?
Beta glucan is a soluble fiber that acts as a naturally occurring polysaccharide that is found in the cell walls of whole grains, seaweeds, mushrooms, and yeast. (1) Beta glucans are glucose polymers that are often used as food additives. In the United States the most common forms of beta glucans are extracted from baker’s yeast; although, they are also readily available in oats as well.
As the body does not produce this fiber on its own, it must be ingested from other recognized beta glucan sources. Beta glucans are also used in medicines and health supplements due to their health benefits.
My family and I get beta glucan from our dear friends at Better Way Health. We know the owners very well and believe in them, their mission and that their product is one of the purest (if not THE purest) on the market!
The Health Benefits of Beta Glucan
Extensive study has been done to determine the overall health benefits of beta glucan. Currently, it has shown significant promise in four key areas.
Cancer – Studies have shown that the fiber in beta glucan helps to increase cytokines response which regulates the immune system response in breast, stomach, and colorectal cancers. These studies have concluded that some forms of beta glucan may be beneficial in helping to reduce the size of cancerous tumors, as well as helping to prevent the growth and development of them. (2)
Japanese studies have shown that beta glucan ingestion in mice led to an increase in the white blood cells known as neutrophils that help to destroy cancer cells in tumors. (3)
Heart Health – The heart healthy benefits of eating oats is due to the levels of beta glucan that oats contains. (2) Studies have shown that regular daily intake of a minimum of three grams of beta glucan can help reduce high LDL cholesterol levels by as much as seven percent (4).
Even with taking lower dosages of the extract, both males and females who participated in the studies showed much lower total cholesterol levels after five weeks.
Immunity – For more than a century, beta glucans have been studied because of their ability to regulate the immune system. They have been shown to increase the activity of the pathogen-fighting immune cells known as macrophages.
Glucans communicate with these cells which results in an increase in the number and size of B-Cells, T-Cells, and NK-Cells, which are the cells that control the fighting off of viruses, bacteria, and microbes (5). There is also evidence that glucans activate lymphocytes, which increases the amount of cells that destroy viruses and tumor cells.
Infections – Over-prescribed antibiotics have led to an increase in viruses and bacteria that are resistant to traditional treatments. According to a study performed in Nigeria, beta glucans have a notable effect on bacterial infections such as Escherichia coli (6).
Additional studies have shown that beta glucans kill bacteria that is in the blood and that the introduction of yeast beta glucans protects against sepsis. (5) When given after serious wounds or surgery, beta glucans have also been shown to reduce the chances of infection, and reduces the effects of upper respiratory tract infections (5).
Why It's Important To Know The Source
Beta glucans have shown significant health benefits, but the source of the beta glucan fiber plays a key role in the areas where it provides the most benefit. Studies using distinct beta glucan sources have shown that those found in oats, yeast and mushrooms each provide their own benefits (5):
- Glucans from cereals are the simplest structures, with linear beta (1,3;1,4)-D-lucans
- Yeast, fungi, and certain bacteria provide branched beta (1,4;1,6)-D-glucans (7)
- These differences, along with the lengths of the branches, the charges of the polymers, solubility, and the conformation all have an impact on how well they perform in biological activities (7).
When researching and evaluating glucans, the data shows the differences between the types and sources, which allows for a greater understanding of how each type performs different processes in the body (8). Some forms, such as those sourced from barley, have been found to provide protection against chemotherapies.
Glucans sourced from some plants have shown beneficial effects in heart health and lowering cholesterol, while fungal sources have proven beneficial in glucose intolerance, cancer diabetes, and other metabolic issues (8). Studies have also shown that specific beta glucan sources provide additional benefits in multiple areas, versus individual processes.
The BEST Source of Beta Glucan
Scientific literature has clearly shown that beta glucan sourced from baker’s yeast exhibits the most benefits in multiple areas, leading researchers to focus even more on this source in more recent studies (9). Yeast glucans have shown considerable promise in the following areas:
- Controlling post-surgery infection in high risk patients
- Decreased inflammation due to allergic rhinitis
- Decreased reliance on IV antibiotics and ICU stays after surgery
- Decreased tissue damage due to arthritis
- Improved wound healing
- Increase in cancer-killing neutrophils
- Protection against infectious diseases
- Protection against radiation exposure
- Reduced mortality due to cancer in rats
- Reduction in septic shock
- Shorter reaction time to infectious materials
Beta glucans are available in different supplements and foods. In their marketing genius, Cheerios is currently advertising that their cereal is an excellent source of oat-derived glucans, which they point out as helping to lower cholesterol (10).
Research suggests that grain-sourced glucans can help with heart health, yet are not as successful as those from yeast in helping with immunity and cancer protection (source). If you want to make sure that your beta glucan provides as many benefits as possible, your best option is to look for supplements that use yeast as their source.
Each of the above mentioned benefits has been noted in scientific journals, showing that the best source for beta glucans is baker’s yeast in its raw form (11). The numerous benefits provided by research continues to provide even more insight into this source of glucans, and its full benefits are still being studied.