You already know that fiber is good for you, and that dietary sources of it are an important part of keeping the digestive system running properly, lowering cholesterol, and keeping blood sugar levels under control.
What you may not know, however, is that the soluble fiber beta glucan is proving that it provides more benefits than your average fiber.
What is Beta Glucan?
Beta glucan is a type of soluble fiber that is classified as a naturally occurring polysaccharide that is found in the cell walls of whole grains, seaweeds, mushrooms, and yeast. (1) Essentially, they are glucose polymers that are often used as food additives, with the most common forms in the US being those that are extracted from baker’s yeast; although, they are also readily available in oats as well.
Beta glucans are also used in medicines and health supplements due to their health benefits. As the body does not produce this fiber on its own, it must be ingested from other recognized beta glucan sources.
Beta Glucan Health Benefits
Beta glucan has undergone considerable study to determine its overall health benefits. Currently, it has shown considerable promise and benefit in four key areas.
- Cancer – Several studies have concluded that some forms of beta glucans 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) Some studies have also shown that the fiber helps to increase cytokines response, helping to regulate the immune system response in breast, stomach, and colorectal cancers. Japanese studies have also shown that beta glucans 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 – You’ve likely heard about the heart health benefits of oats, and much of this is due to the levels of beta glucan that they contain (2). Studies have shown that regularly 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). Additionally, both male and female participants in the studies also showed much lower total cholesterol levels after five weeks, even with lower dosages of the extract.
- Immunity – Beta glucans have been studied for more than a century for their ability to regulate the immune system. They have proven to increase the activity of the pathogen-fighting immune cells known as macrophages. Glucans interact with these cells, resulting in an increase in the number and size of B-Cells, T-Cells, and NK-Cells, which are the cells that are responsible for fighting off viruses, bacteria, and microbes (5). There is also evidence that glucans have a stimulating effect of lymphocytes, which increases the amount of cells that destroy viruses and tumor cells.
- Infections – The over-prescription of antibiotics has led to an increase in viruses and bacteria that are resistant to traditional treatments. Studies performed in Nigeria have shown that beta glucans has a significant effect on bacterial infections such as Escherichia coli (6). Additionally, studies have shown that the introduction of yeast beta glucans not only protects against sepsis, but also kills bacteria that is in the blood (5). Glucans have also been shown to reduce the chances of infection when given after serious wounds or surgery, and to lessen the effects of upper respiratory tract infections (5).
Why Does Source Matter?
While beta glucans have shown considerable health benefits, the source of the fiber plays a key role in the areas in which it provides the most benefit. Studies using specific beta glucan sources have also been performed, showing 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 (6)
- 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 (6).
Research evaluating glucans delineate between the types and sources, which allows for a greater understanding of how each type performs different processes in the body (3). While some forms, such as those from sourced from barley, have been found to provide protection against chemotherapies.
Glucans sourced from other plants have shown more beneficial effects in heart health and lowering cholesterol, while fungal sources have proven beneficial in glucose intolerance, diabetes, and other metabolic issues (3). Studies have also shown that specific beta glucan sources provide additional benefits in multiple areas, versus individual processes.
The BEST Beta Glucan Source
The scientific literature is clear in one thing:” beta glucan sourced from baker’s yeast has shown the most benefits in multiple areas, leading researchers to focus even more on this source in more recent studies (3). Yeast glucans have shown promise in the following areas:
- Reduced mortality due to cancer in rats
- Increase in cancer-killing neutrophils
- Protection against infectious diseases
- Shorter reaction time to infectious materials
- Controlling infection post-surgery in high risk patients
- Decreased reliance on IV antibiotics and ICU stays after surgery
- Protection against radiation exposure
- Reduction in septic shock
- Improved wound healing
- Decreased inflammation due to allergic rhinitis
- Decreased tissue damage due to arthritis
Each of these benefits have been noted in scientific journals, showing that the best source for beta glucans is baker’s yeast in its raw form (3). 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.
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 (5).
Yet we know that this is a farce. Plant-sourced glucans have not been proven to help with heart health, and are not as successful as those from yeast in helping with immunity and cancer protection. 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.