What is Beta-Glucan?
Fiber: you know that it keeps you regular and can be good for your heart, but there’s much more to fiber than meets the eye.
There are two different types of fiber—soluble and insoluble—and each one affects our bodies differently. Insoluble fiber doesn’t absorb water. It helps food move more quickly through the body and contributes to the bulk in our stool. It helps us stay regular and prevents constipation.
Soluble fiber, in contrast, does absorb water and swells to form a gel in your digestive tract. This can slow digestion and helps control blood-sugar levels and manage high cholesterol.
Beta-glucans are a type of soluble fiber derived from oats, barley, the cell walls of certain algae, bacteria, fungi, yeast and plants. Beta-glucans have risen in popularity in recent years for their many health benefits, which include weight loss and improved heart health.
Evidence strongly supports soluble fiber’s ability to lower cholesterol and promote heart health. Research suggests that beta-glucan in particular plays a key role in supporting healthy heart function. Clinical studies have shown that beta-glucan lowers blood pressure in obese participants, and may improve diabetes symptoms (x). It can also lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels by 5-10 percent, potentially reducing your risk of developing heart disease (x).
Beta Glucans and Weight Loss
Beta-glucan can also help with weight loss. In studies, beta-glucan in oats and barley improved satiety–meaning they made participants feel fuller longer, potentially reducing cravings that lead to weight gain (x) (x).
While studies linking beta-glucan to weight loss have shown promising results, more clinical studies are needed to determine the doses at which beta-glucan can effectively manage weight (x).
Lowers High Blood Sugar
Both animal studies and human studies have shown that beta-glucan helps lower blood-sugar levels (x). This may be because beta-glucan slows gastric emptying, which allows your body to absorb sugars more slowly. The more slowly your body absorbs sugars, the more it decreases your blood-sugar levels after meals (x).
Research continues, but early studies indicate that because it regulates blood sugar, beta-glucan may help improve symptoms of diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a disease that includes high cholesterol, excess fat around the waist, and an increased risk of heart disease (x).
Boosts Immune Function
If you come down with chronic colds, try adding a beta-glucan supplement to your diet. Studies suggest it strengthens your immune system to help your body fight off infections.
So how exactly does it work? Beta-glucan boosts the production of leukocytes–white blood cells that rush to defend your body from invaders like colds or the flu (x).
Beta-Glucan Food Sources
Oats and barley are rich in beta-glucan: 1 1/2 cups of cooked oatmeal provides three grams of beta-glucan, and one cup of cooked pearl barley provides about 2.5 grams.
Other food sources of beta-glucan include mushrooms, yeast and algae.
Beta-Glucan Side Effects
The FDA labels beta-glucan as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) (x). Beta-glucan has no serious side effects. However, some gastrointestinal side effects (such as bloating, abdominal cramping and flatulence) may occur (x). Talk to your doctor before taking beta-glucan if you have a history of blood pressure problems.
Beta Glucan Dosage
The FDA recommends 3 grams of beta-glucan daily for digestive and heart health. To reduce possible gastrointestinal discomfort, split the dose into three doses, one with each meal.
If you choose a beta-glucan supplement, try beta-glucan powder; it contains a high concentration of beneficial compounds. As a dietary supplement, take 250 mg once daily with a meal, or as directed by your physician. For accurate measurement, use a milligram scale.
The Bottom Line
Beta-glucan is a type of soluble fiber. It may help reduce the risk of heart disease, boost immunity, and promote weight loss. Found naturally in grains like oats and barley, beta-glucan is also available as a supplement, so it’s easy to reap its health benefits.*