What is Beta-Glucan?
Beta-Glucan is a substance found naturally in several foods, including oats, barley, and certain mushrooms. Also found in yeasts, beta-glucan is classified as a polysaccharide (a large molecule made up of multiple sugar molecules).
There`s emerging evidence that beta-glucan may be the one of the easiest natural ways to reduce and manage elevated cholesterol. Beta glucan also offers a number of other health benefits, boosting of the immune system and helping to manage diabetes.
Let’s take a look at how beta-glucan can be of benefit.
Beta-Glucan helps to lower cholesterol
There seems to be a lot of media attention at the moment on how beta-glucan can significantly lower cholesterol levels. This is not new evidence; we have known for many years that the humble oat is highly beneficial for lowering cholesterol. Oats naturally contain a large amount of beta-glucan which is very powerful at reducing cholesterol.
Beta-glucan acts to lower cholesterol in 3 different ways
1. Acts like a sponge
Beta-glucan acts as a ‘sponge`, soaking up excess LDL (bad) cholesterol and removing it from the body. This is just one way beta-glucan works to reduce cholesterol absorption. (2)
2. Reduces intestinal absorption of cholesterol
Cholesterol is used to make bile acids that are produced in your liver and help with fat digestion and absorption. The thickening property of beta-glucan in your small intestine causes some bile acids to be carried through and excreted in your stool. Since most bile acids are normally re-absorbed from the terminal portion of your small intestine for re-use, your liver must remove LDL (bad) cholesterol from your blood to make more bile acids.
This is part of the cholesterol-lowering effect of beta-glucan and other soluble fibres. In your large intestine, beta-glucan is fermented by bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids that may inhibit cholesterol synthesis in your liver. (2, 5)
3. Reduces glucose absorption
You may think what does glucose have to do with cholesterol, well the answer is everything. Beta-glucan reduces the rate glucose is absorbed. A decrease in glucose in the blood equals reduced insulin secretion. Insulin stimulates the production of cholesterol by the liver, so a decrease in insulin secretion equals a decrease in cholesterol production. (2, 5, 6)
Most clinical studies are finding that supplementation of beta-glucan at more than 3 grams per day over a period of at least 3 weeks sees a reduction of cholesterol in the region of 5-10 percent. (4)
These results are very promising so much so that more beta-glucan products are being launched on the Australian market. Everything from breakfast cereals to beta-glucan powders are now available for you to try.
Other Uses for Beta-Glucan
Research has shown us that beta-glucan is effective for more than just reducing cholesterol.
Beta-Glucan seems to increase the immune system. The way in which beta-glucan does this is not clear at this stage but studies have shown beta-glucan helps to ward off viruses that cause upper respiratory infections; this may be due to beta-glucans ability to up regulate many fractions of the immune system (1)
We have already discovered the connection between beta-glucan and the lowering of blood glucose. So it is no real surprise that beta-glucan is showing promising results in treating diabetes. Beta-glucan does reduce a person’s glycemic response after eating and also assists in maintaining that feeling of fullness after a meal, hence reducing the chance of over eating. These 2 factors make beta glucan a great tool for those with blood sugar irregularities, obesity, and diabetes.
Preventing the spread of 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. (1)
In Australia the main ways to take beta-glucan are by supplementation or by eating a cereal rich in beta glucan. For high cholesterol, 3-16 grams of beta-glucan daily have been studied and found moderately effective in reducing HDL ("bad “cholesterol) levels. (4)
Interactions and cautions
As beta-glucan can increase the immune system caution should be taken by those who are on medications to suppress the immune system. If you are on immune suppressant medication you should not take beta-glucan without first checking with your health care professional.
What else can you do to help lower your cholesterol?
The omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil is a tried and tested way to reduce cholesterol. take 2,000-3,000 of combined EPA and DHA to help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Garlic can help to reduce HDL (bad) cholesterol and helps to keep your blood vessels nice and clean. Recommended dosage is 300-500mg of aged garlic twice a day.
Plant sterols gained popularity when they were added to some margarines to help lower cholesterol. Plant sterols inhibit the absorption of cholesterol from the food you eat. They are very effective but I would take them in supplement form and not in a margarine that is loaded with Tran’s fatty acids, the one thing that will increase your cholesterol. Recommended dose is 1,000-1,500mg twice a day.
Red Yeast Rice
Red rice extract works on the same pathway as conventional medications and in doing so has been shown to reduce total cholesterol by 11-32 percent. Recommended dosage is 1,200mg up to twice daily.
An extract from the Citrus Bergamia Risso plant. Bergamot works on the same pathways as statin medications and is getting fabulous results without the common side effects seen with conventional medication. Recommended dosage is 500mg twice a day.
Globe artichoke extract
Globe artichoke is a fabulous liver herb which is capable of reducing total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. General dosage is 1,000mg twice daily.
We all know there are many foods that will increase bad cholesterol in our body. The main foods to stay away from when looking to decrease your cholesterol are saturated and hydrogenated fats, commonly in pre packaged foods. Fried foods and baked foods are also full of dangerous fats. Margarine and shortening are particularly high in hydrogenated fats and it is best to steer clear of these. Sugar and alcohol stimulate the liver to produce more cholesterol so reducing alcohol intake and sugary foods or stopping them all together will help reduce high cholesterol.
When I help people to reduce cholesterol I like to recommend a couple of supplements along with dietary intervention. Beta-glucan is a simple yet highly effective treatment for high cholesterol; you can simply sprinkle some on your morning cereal or pop it in your smoothie, a no fuss and easy way to see results.
Written by Lea McIntyre - Naturopath - ND BHSc
Lea has had many years of professional experience as a naturopath working with her patients and clients both in her clinic and as a senior retail naturopathic adviser. When Lea is not helping people stay well and enjoy a healthy lifestyle, she is busy caring for and nurturing her two young children.
1. Chan GC, Chan WK, Sze DM. ‘The effects of beta-glucan on human immune and cancer cells.’ J Hematol Oncol. 2009 Jun 10;2:25.
2. Othman RA, Moghadasian MH, Jones PJ. ‘Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat β-glucan’ Nutr Rev. 2011 Jun;69(6):299-309. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00401.x.
3. Bioactive oat β-glucan reduces LDL cholesterol in Caucasians and non-Caucasians. Wolever TM, Gibbs AL, Brand-Miller J, Duncan AM, Hart V, Lamarche B, Tosh SM, Duss R. Nutr J. 2011 Nov 25;10:130. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-10-130
4. Effect of 6 weeks` consumption of β-glucan-rich oat products on cholesterol levels in mildly hypercholesterolaemic overweight adults. Charlton KE, Tapsell LC, Batterham MJ, O`Shea J, Thorne R, Beck E, Tosh SM. Br J Nutr. 2012 Apr;107(7):1037-47. doi:10.1017/S0007114511003850. Epub 2011 Aug 3
5. Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat β-glucan. Othman RA, Moghadasian MH, Jones PJ. Nutr Rev. 2011 Jun;69(6):299-309. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00401.x. Review
6. Meta-analysis of the effect of β-glucan intake on blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Tiwari U, Cummins E. Nutrition. 2011 Oct;27(10):1008-16. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2010.11.006. Epub 2011 Apr 6
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