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Home > Health Library > Beta Glucan
Beta Glucan
Overview
Beta glucans are sugars that are found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, algae, lichens, and plants, such as oats and barley. They are sometimes used as medicine.

Beta glucans are used for high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Beta glucans are also used to boost the immune system in people whose body defenses have been weakened by conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, or physical and emotional stress; or by treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy. Beta glucans are also used for colds (common cold), flu (influenza), H1N1 (swine) flu, allergies, hepatitis, Lyme disease, asthma, ear infections, aging, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.

People apply beta glucans to the skin for dermatitis, eczema, wrinkles, bedsores, wounds, burns, diabetic ulcers, and radiation burns.
Healthcare providers sometimes give beta glucans by IV (intravenously) or by injection into the muscle to treat cancer and to boost the immune system in people with HIV/AIDS and related conditions. Beta glucans are also given by IV to prevent infection in people after surgery.
Healthcare providers sometimes give beta glucans by a shot under the skin (subcutaneously) for treating and reducing the size of skin tumors resulting from cancer that has spread.

In manufacturing, beta glucans are used as a food additive in products such as salad dressings, frozen desserts, sour cream, and cheese spreads.

There are several beta glucan supplement products that claim beta glucans taken by mouth can only be absorbed if the product is prepared by a special patented process that “micronizes” beta glucan particles to a size of 1 micron or less. However, there is no reliable evidence to support such a claim.

Beta glucans might lower blood cholesterol by preventing the absorption of cholesterol from food in the stomach and intestines, when it is taken by mouth. When given by injection, beta glucans might stimulate the immune system by increasing chemicals which prevent infections.

 

What is Beta Glucan?
Beta glucan is a type of soluble fibre. Although it is found in all cereal grains, barley and oats are known to be particularly rich sources. Beta glucan and its benefits for heart health have been studied extensively. It is believed that beta glucan is heart-protective because of its ability to lower cholesterol, in particular, the re-absorption of LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Where it is found?
The four most popular sources of Beta glucan are;

Yeast - One of the most studied, this one is considered "the mother of all Beta glucan's" for its immune system support results as well as in a wide variety of other areas. A great deal of detailed research ranging over 45 years has been done on this yeast-derived material.

Barley - A source of dietary fiber and heart health. This material is the newest kid on the block.

Mushrooms - Studies show mushroom derived glucan help support immune system function however not at the effectiveness of yeast derived glucan.

Oat - A source of dietary fiber and heart health and has shown beneficial hypocholesterolemic effects.

 
Benefits / uses

Beta-glucan is primarily used to enhance the immune system and to lower cholesterol levels. Research indicates that beta-glucan is very effective at activating white blood cells known as macrophages and neutrophils, both of which provide the immune system's first lines of defense against foreign material in the body. 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. Although promising, there is no concrete evidence that beta-glucan as an oral supplement can enhance immune function in humans.

Beta-glucan is a key component of the cholesterol-lowering effect of oat bran. As with other soluble-fiber components, the binding of cholesterol by beta-glucan and the resulting elimination of these molecules in the feces is very helpful for reducing blood cholesterol.

By postponing initial digestion, beta-glucan is may be helpful in reducing the elevation of post-meal blood sugar levels and may quite possibly be able to increase tissue sensitivity to insulin. These effects indicate possible benefit in blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
 

Doses
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:

BY MOUTH:
For high cholesterol: 7.5 grams twice daily beta glucans fiber from yeast added to juice has been used. Barley-derived beta glucans have also been used in doses of 3-10 grams/day.

INTRAVENOUS:
Healthcare providers give beta glucans intravenously (IV) for HIV infection, to extend life in patients with cancer, and to prevent infection in certain patients undergoing surgery.

Possible Side effects / Precautions / Possible Interactions:
Beta glucans are LIKELY SAFE for most adults when taken by mouth or when the intravenous solution is used for a short time period.

The potential side effects of beta glucans, when taken by mouth, are not known. When used by injection, beta glucans can cause chills, fever, pain at the injection site, headache, back and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, high or low blood pressure, flushing, rashes, decreased number of white blood cells, and increased urine. People with AIDS who take beta glucans have developed thickening of the skin of the hands and feet.

 
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of beta glucans during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

AIDS/HIV or AIDS-related complex (ARC): Thick patches of skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet (keratoderma) can develop in people with AIDS/HIV or ARC who are receiving beta glucans made from yeast. The condition can start during the first two weeks of treatment and then disappear two to four weeks after use of beta glucans stops.

Interactions:
Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants) interacts with BETA GLUCANS
Beta glucans increase the immune system. By increasing the immune system beta glucans might decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system.

Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.


Reference & Research:
arw 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].
arw 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.
arw 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.
arw 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.
arw 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.
arw 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.
arw 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.
arw 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].
arw 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.
arw 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.
arw 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.
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arw Czop JK, Kay J. Isolation and characterization of beta-glucan receptors on human mononuclear phagocytes. J Exp Med 1991;173:1511–20.
arw 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.
arw 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.
arw Ooi VE, Liu F. Immunomodulation and anti-cancer activity of polysaccharide-protein complexes. Curr Med Chem 2000;7:715–29 [review].
arw Ross GD, Vetvicka V, Yan J, et al. Therapeutic intervention with complement and beta-glucan in cancer. Immunopharmacology 1999;42:61–74.
arw 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.