Beta Glucan supplement health benefit, side effects, Influence on cholesterol level and immune system
June 22 2018 by Ray Sahelian, M.D.

Beta glucan is a naturally derived polysaccharide which has been studied for its anti-tumor and immune stimulating properties. The carbohydrate polymers known as beta-1,3-d-glucans exert potent effects on the immune system - stimulating anti-tumor and antimicrobial activity, for example, by binding to receptors on macrophages and other white blood cells and activating them. Although beta-glucans are known to bind to receptors, such as complement receptor 3, there is evidence that another is present on macrophages.
   Beta glucan, in the form of a supplement pill, has been studied in blood sugar and cholesterol management. Barley, like oats, is a rich source of this soluble fiber.

Conditions where it may be effective

Cancer prevention or protection
Enhancement of radioprotection and anti-tumor immunity by yeast-derived beta-glucan in mice.
J Med Food. 2005.
Intraperitoneal injection of beta glucan was shown to greatly delay mortality in mice exposed to whole-body X-ray radiation and tumor growth in tumor-bearing mice. Since the leukocyte and lymphocyte numbers were increased by a single dose of beta-glucan, the radioprotective effect is probably mediated, at least in part, by a hemopoietic action in irradiated mice. In addition, both natural killer (NK) and lymphokine-activated killer activities were significantly increased by repeated doses. Our results suggest that beta glucan may be a promising adjunct treatment for cancer patients receiving radiotherapy.

Sulforaphane, from broccoli sprouts extract, appears to be a cancer fighter, too.

Cholesterol management
At least two good studies show beta glucan to be helpful in reducing cholesterol levels.

Br J Nutr. 2017. Barley β-glucan reduces blood cholesterol levels via interrupting bile acid metabolism.

The effects of concentrated barley beta-glucan on blood lipids in a population of hypercholesterolaemic men and women.
Br J Nutr. 2007. University of Minnesota, Medical School, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Minneapolis, MN, USA.
We evaluated the LDL- cholesterol lowering effect of a concentrated barley beta-glucan extract as a vehicle to deliver this potential health benefit of barley. In a 10-week blinded controlled study, subjects were randomized to one of four treatment groups or control. Treatment groups included either high molecular weight or low molecular weight barley beta-glucan extract at both 3 and 5 g doses. Treatment was delivered twice per day with meals in the form of two functional food products: a ready-to-eat cereal and a reduced-calorie fruit juice beverage. After 6 weeks of treatment the mean LDL- Cholesterol levels fell by 15 % in the 5 g HMW group, 13 % in the 5 g LMW group and 9 % in both the 3 g/d groups, versus baseline. Similar results were observed for total cholesterol. HDL-C levels were unchanged by treatment.

Oat-derived beta-glucan significantly improves HDL Cholesterol and diminishes LDL Cholesterol and non-HDL cholesterol in overweight individuals with mild hypercholesterolemia.
Am J Ther. 2007. Center for Metabolic and Endocrine Research, The University of Zulia, Maracaibo, Venezuela.
To investigate the effect of bread formulated with 6 g of beta-glucan (oat soluble fiber) on serum lipids in overweight subjects with high cholesterol levels. Thirty-eight male subjects who were eligible for the study ate an isocaloric diet for a 1-week period. They were then divided into 2 groups: group A, who were maintained on American Heart Association (AHA) Step II diet, including whole wheat bread, and group B, who were maintained on AHA Step II diet containing high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids plus bread containing 6 grams of beta-glucan (Nutrim-OB) for 8 weeks. There was a significant increase in plasma high density lipoprotein cholesterol in the beta-glucan group, but there was no change in group B. There was a significant reduction in total cholesterol in the 2 groups to approximately the same extent. Plasma low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol also decreased significantly in the two groups; however, the beta-glucan fortified diet was significantly more effective. The beta-glucan diet also decreased fasting plasma glucose, whereas the other diet had no effect. Six grams of beta-glucan from oats added to the AHA Step II diet and moderate physical activity improved lipid profile and caused a decrease in weight and, thus, reduced the risk of cardiovascular events in overweight male individuals with mild to moderate hypercholesterolemia.
   Dr Sahelin comments: Six grams of beta-glucan is a high amount and quite expensive. Perhaps a lower amount would also help.

Dr. Ronald Mensink, of Maastricht University tested 25 healthy subjects who drank a fruit drink containing beta-glucan from oats and 22 healthy subjects who drank a fruit drink containing 5 grams of rice starch, which served as a placebo. All of the subjects drank the juice every day for five weeks. Compared with the placebo group, total cholesterol was reduced by 5 percent and LDL cholesterol by 7.7 percent in the beta-glucan group. The investigators also found that the beta-glucan drink decreased cholesterol absorption and increased synthesis, without affecting levels of fat-soluble antioxidants. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2006.

Beta Glucan incorporated into a fruit drink effectively lowers serum LDL- cholesterol concentrations
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006
We examined the effects of a beta glucan -enriched fruit juice on serum lipids and lipoproteins and on markers of cholesterol absorption (serum concentrations of plant sterols) and synthesis (serum concentrations of lathosterol). Beta Glucan lowers serum concentrations of total and LDL cholesterol when incorporated into a fruit drink without affecting plasma concentrations of lipid-soluble antioxidants.

Sweeteners and beta-glucans improve metabolic and anthropometrics variables in well controlled type 2 diabetic patients.
Am J Ther. 2003.
A total of 16 male, well controlled type 2 diabetes patients were divided into two groups of eight; one group received the diet based on the American Diabetic Association's nutrition recommendations, and the other was fed a modified, low-calorie diet containing a fat replacer (beta-glucans derived from oats) and the sweeteners, sucralose and fructose. Both diets produced significant improvements in weight, body mass index, lipid profile, basal glucose, and HbA1C. However, the beta glucan diet was superior to the American Diabetic Association's diet in improving metabolic and anthropometric profile: greater increase in HDL cholesterol and larger decreases in HbA1C, weight, and body mass index.

Colon health
Dietary supplementation with beta-glucan enriched oat bran increases faecal concentration of carboxylic acids in healthy subjects.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007; Applied Nutrition and Food Chemistry, Department of Food Technology, Center for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.
Carboxylic acids, especially butyric acid, have been suggested to counteract colonic diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and colon cancer. To elucidate how the colonic concentration of carboxylic acids in healthy subjects is influenced by dietary supplementation with oat bran, and whether the concentration varies over time and during consecutive days. Twenty-five healthy subjects were given 40 g beta-glucan enriched oat bran per day, corresponding to 20 g dietary fibre, in 4 slices of bread. After 12 weeks, the concentrations of acetic, propionic and isobutyric acid were higher and that of lactic acid lower. The variation between individuals was considerable, whereas in the same individuals there was little variation. Oat bran increased the fecal concentration of carboxylic acids after 8 weeks, indicating an increased concentration also in the distal colon. The concentration of all main acids increased, except for lactic acid, which decreased. Oat bran may therefore have a preventive potential adjunct to colonic diseases.

Diabetes and blood sugar control
Beta glucan may be helpful in blood sugar control. The addition predictably reduces the glycemic index. In a 50 g carbohydrate portion each gram of beta-glucan reduces the glycemic index by 4 units, making it a useful functional food component for reducing postprandial glycemia. It has also been tested for cholesterol level support.

J Agric Food Chem. 2017. Orally Administered Baker's Yeast β-Glucan Promotes Glucose and Lipid Homeostasis in the Livers of Obesity and Diabetes Model Mice.

Heart disease
Randomized controlled crossover study of the effect of a highly beta-glucan-enriched barley on cardiovascular disease risk factors in mildly hypercholesterolemic men.
Department of Medicine, the Human Nutrition & Metabolic Unit, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Soluble-fiber beta-glucan derived from oats can reduce cardiovascular disease risk through reductions in total and LDL cholesterol. Barley-derived beta-glucan may also improve serum cholesterol, but large quantities are required for clinical significance. This trial investigated whether a beta-glucan-enriched form of barley can favorably modify cholesterol and other markers of CVD and diabetes risk. Eighteen mildly hyperlipidemic men were randomly assigned in this single-blind, 2 x 4-wk trial to either the treatment arm or the control arm. After a washout period of 4 wk, dietary regimens were crossed over. There was no significant change in total, LDL, or HDL cholesterol or in triacylglycerol, fasting glucose, or postprandial glucose when analyzed between treatments. The effect of beta-glucan -enriched barley on lipid profile was highly variable between subjects, and there was no evidence of a clinically significant improvement in CVD risk across this group of mildly hyperlipidemic men.

Immunity research
Effects of oat beta-glucan on innate immunity and infection after exercise stress.
Med Sci Sports Exercise. 2004.
To test the effects of oat beta glucan on respiratory infection, macrophage antiviral resistance, and NK cytotoxicity it was fed to mice in the drinking water for 10 d before intranasal inoculation of HSV-1 or sacrifice. Our data suggest that daily ingestion of beta glucan may offset the increased risk of upper respiratory infection associated with exercise stress, which may be mediated, at least in part, by an increase in macrophage antiviral resistance.

Radiation damage protection
Mutat Res Genet Toxicol Environ Mutagen. 2014. Effects of barley β-glucan on radiation damage in the human hepatoma cell line HepG2. Damage to normal tissue is an obstacle to radiotherapy of cancer. We have tested whether barley β-glucan can enhance radioprotection in the human hepatoma cell line HepG2. Results show that barley β-glucan is a radioprotective agent.

Herbs and supplements that influence the immune system
Active Hexose-correlated Compound is a mushroom extract that has been tested as an Immune enhancing, liver protective and anti-cancer agent.
Andrographis has become popular in Scandinavia for use during winter upper respiratory infections.

Side effects, safety, danger, risks
No major beta glucan side effects have been reported in medical journals as of 2018.

Interactions with medications
I have a husband that had heart surgery in 07 and is taking a baby aspirin every day. I have been told that the interaction between aspirin and beta glucan can be toxic to the intestines, is that correct? Also, he has been treated for stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma and I thought that this product could help him. He is currently in remission.
   I have not seen research regarding the combination of aspirin and this natural supplement but I have not reason to suspect a significant interaction.

Additional products on sale online
Source Naturals buy Beta Glucan product
Beta glucan is a unique polysaccharide composed of glucose molecules extracted and purified from the cell wall of common baker's yeast  Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is used to maintain or stimulate the effectiveness of the immune system. Animal  and human cell culture studies have shown that it can stimulate several aspects of immune function, such as phagocytosis and interleukin production. Source Naturals Beta Glucan uses a purification process that removes the manoproteins and yeast residues that may reduce its effectiveness.

Questions, inquiries
Q. Your review of beta glucan is very helpful. Are the properties and benefits of cereal beta glucan (1,3 1,4) interchangeable with the properties and benefits of yeast beta glucan (1,3 1,6) and vice versa? Will (1,3 1,6) Beta-glucan reduce blood cholesterol, manage cholesterol absorption, help control blood sugar, maintain colon health, and offer other heart health benefits as studied for (1,3 1,4) beta glucan? And will (1,3 1,4) beta glucan provide beneficial immunity properties as studied for (1,3 1,6) beta glucan?
   A. It is not easy to give a definitive answer since I am not aware of head to head studies evaluating the two, but I suspect their benefits are similar.

Buy Beta Glucan
Supplement Facts:
Calcium 155 mg
Beta-1, 3-/ 1,6-Glucan 250 mg pill

Jarrow Formulas, Beta Glucan, Immune Support, 60 Capsules
Buy Beta Glucan supplement

Supplement Facts
Serving Size: 1 Capsule
Servings Per Container: 60
  Amount Per Serving % DV
Saccharomyces cerevisiae extract (providing at least 80% long, branched 1,3 / 1,6 glucans) 250 mg *
* Daily Value not established.

Suggested Use:  One to three beta glucan tablets daily, or as recommended by your health care professional.

Other products to buy online
Now Foods, Beta-Glucans, with ImmunEnhancer, Xtra Strength, 250 mg, 60 Veggie Caps

Q. I am trying to locate Yb13g beta glucan, can you help.
   A. This particular extract was used in a study, but it does not seem to be commercially available. It is likely that other extracts would have similar benefits.