What Are Beta Glucans?
Beta glucans are sugar compounds found in bacteria, yeast, fungi, algae and plants such as oats and barley.They are a source of soluble fiber, and research suggests they may reduce high cholesterol and improve skin conditions such as eczema, bedsores, wounds and radiation therapy burns.
Beta Glucan Benefits and side effects
As a soluble fiber, beta-glucan itself is not digested, but it does slow food transit in the intestines. As a result, carbohydrates are absorbed slower, resulting in more steady blood sugar. In addition, it moves slowly through the digestive tract, taking cholesterol with it as it goes.
In addition to the benefits this can have for diabetes and high cholesterol, alternative medicine proponents claim that beta-glucan supplements may help with the following health conditions:
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Beta-glucan is also purported to help the body fend off colds, the flu, and even cancer, as well as increase defenses against the harmful effects of stress. So far, however, scientific support for the benefits of beta-glucan is limited. If you're considering using beta-glucan supplements, talk to your doctor to weigh the potential risks and benefits.
Keep in mind that alternative medicine should not be used as a substitute for standard care. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.
Here's a look at some key study findings on the possible health benefits of beta-glucan.
The beta-glucan found in oats may help keep cholesterol in check, according to a 2011 report.3 Looking at studies conducted over the previous 13 years, the report's authors determined that oat-derived beta-glucan may significantly reduce levels of total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.4 The authors noted that, on average, daily oat consumption is associated with 5% and 7% reductions in total and LDL cholesterol levels, respectively.
A 2014 meta-analysis found similar results. The researchers focused on studies that included at least 3 grams (g) of beta-glucan daily and found it reduced total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, but did not impact HDL cholesterol levels or triglycerides.
Beta Glucan Benefits for Diabetes
Research also suggests that beta-glucan may help manage diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels, lowering cholesterol, and keeping blood pressure in check.A 2014 literature analysis confirmed these findings but noted that beta-glucan alone was not enough to achieve normal blood sugar readings in patients with diabetes, and it should be used as an adjunct to standard treatment.
In conclusion, beta-glucans are potentially beneficial in the treatment of diabetes and associated cardiovascular risks. Studies have shown that beta-glucans could reduce hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, and hypertension. Thus, beta-glucan could produce new approaches for the treatment of diabetes. However, no pure beta-glucan has been used. Thus, it is not known if other components in products used could also have effects. Beta-glucans are diverse in their structure and some may be not effective on diabetes. Thus, characterization of structure features essential for antidiabetic effects is of importance and the modification of beta-glucan structure may lead to compounds that are more effective for the treatment of diabetes.
Beta Glucan Benefits cancer
Preliminary research indicates that beta-glucan may activate a number of cells and proteins that fight cancer (such as T-cells and natural killer cells). What's more, tests on animals have shown that beta-glucan may inhibit the spread of cancer cells.However, a 2009 report cautions that there are "no good quality clinical trial data" for the effectiveness of beta-glucan in treating cancer.
Beta glucans may also be able to help treat cancer. Serious infections and diseases like cancer can over-activate your immune system and affect how the body defends itself. Beta glucans help to activate immune cells and trigger a defense response. In cases of cancer, this triggered response helps the body create a coordinated attack on cancer cells. It also helps slow the growth of cancer cells.
Beta Glucan Benefits for immune system(How does beta-glucan help immune system)
Currently, there is a lack of clinical trials supporting the claim that beta-glucan can "rev up" the immune system and stave off colds, flu, and other types of infection.
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.
Beta Glucan Benefits Skincare
Apparently those anecdotal first-person accounts had real truth to back them up. Dr. Zalka also says that they're "known to have as good or better skin humectant and plumping capacity as hyaluronic acid, [and they're] high in antioxidants."
Prevents Damage: She also claims it "may help prevent cell damage associated with aging or sun exposed skin."
Repairs Skin: Engelman explains, "some studies show that it helps in the treatment of dermatitis, eczema, bed sores, wounds, and burns." These reparative powers stem from the ingredient's barrier-boosting function.
Barrier Booster: Take it from Ann Son, who says the molecule actually links together on the surface of the skin to form a thin and undetectable film. This boosts the natural barrier, which protects "the sensitive skin underneath from daily environmental stressors." In other words, if redness and irritation are your skin's main issues, then beta-glucan is the new (possible) cure you should try.
Boosts Immunity: What's more is that beta-glucans even go so far as to fend off encroaching bacteria that could disrupt the skin's barrier. "Beta-glucans work by stimulating the macrophages (they work to fight off invading pathogens that can cause infections) and stimulate other immune cells to attack pathogens," Engelman tells us. "Think of them as ringleaders." For this reason, they're especially suited to people who have dry, rough, or cracked skin. "For those who have compromised skin barriers like eczema or dermatitis, beta-glucan can help fight virus and pathogens that pass through your skin barrier."
Deeply Hydrate The Skin: According to Son, beta-glucans act as a humectant in the skin, which means they lock hydration in and prevent moisture loss. Here's where it gets interesting: Like retinol, hyaluronic acid is one of the beauty industry's most beloved and buzzworthy skincare ingredients as it's been found to hold up to 1000 times its weight in water—thus giving skin deep and lightweight hydration. It's certainly effective and important, though Son says that beta-glucans can do the same job—if not better. "Hyaluronic acid (HA) is very similar in structure, but it has subtle differences that make it less ideal," Son tells us. "Tests have shown beta-glucan is 20% more hydrating than HA at the same concentration. With extra water, beta-glucan can plump up the skin and make the skin feel more supple."
Anti-Aging Effects: Finally, Son lauds beta-glucans for their anti-aging effects. In fact, she says it's one of the skincare concerns that the ingredient primarily addresses (along with hydration of course). "Because it is a sugar molecule (a unique one), it can bind to many receptors in your body. Depending on where the molecule ends up, beta-glucan has different effects."
Plumps Skin: One study even says that despite the comparatively large molecular size of beta-glucan, it deeply penetrates the epidermis to effectively plump up fine lines and wrinkles.
Beta Glucan Benefits for Dogs
It is concluded that oat beta-glucan extract can be used as a dietary supplement for dogs at a dose of 10 g/kg of food, being effective in reducing blood concentrations of total cholesterol, LDL-c and VLDL-c as well as CTTAD of nutrients, demonstrating a potential to be used in the feeding of obese animals. In addition, by reducing the predominance of a Th2 response, oat beta-glucan can positively modulate the vaccine response of animals.
Possible Side Effects
Although beta-glucan is generally considered safe, there's some concern that it may lower blood sugar. While a benefit in some cases, this can be dangerous in others. People with hypoglycemia or anyone taking medications to reduce blood sugar should consult a physician before using beta-glucan.
People who eat a low-fiber diet should start with a lower dose of beta-glucan and increase it gradually. Like all sources of fiber, it may cause gastric distress, bloating, and gas if taken in larger-than-normal doses. The side effects should wear off over time, but slowly introducing it can help you avoid this.
Supplements haven't been tested for safety. And since dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on their product labels.Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.
Dosage and Preparation(How long does it take for beta glucan to work)
There is no standard dose for beta-glucan. Research has shown various levels to be effective, and the amount needed differs based on the source.
For instance, beta-glucans from yeast may lower cholesterol at 7.5 grams taken twice daily for seven to eight weeks, while beta-glucans made from barley or oats have been shown effective at levels between 3 to 10 g daily for up to 12 weeks.
Oatmeal isn’t the only food rich in beta-glucan. Other food sources include barley, shiitake and reishi mushrooms, seaweed and algae. For frame of reference, one cup of cooked oatmeal has 2 grams of beta-glucan and one cup of cooked pearled barley has 2.5 grams. Although not as rich in the heart-healthy fiber as oats or barley, wheat and rye also contain some beta-glucan.
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