Search the whole site for articles and discussions

View a factfile for a specific condition or supplement

Keep up to date with Nutrition Expert

What are Beta Glucans?

Published Date:

Sarah Barber is a Brighton and Hove based nutritional therapist. Her Pure People clinic provides dietary programs for weight loss, detox, expectant mothers and babies and children. More from this expert.

Click the image to expand

Could beta glucans help lower cholesterol levels?

Close Image

Close Image

 

In chemical terms, beta glucans are chains of glucose molecules (a kind of sugar) called polysaccharides. In nutritional terms, they are classified as a dietary fibre because they are derived from the indigestible parts of plant foods.

  • The role of fibre

    The role of dietary fibre, or roughage, is to keep the digestive system functioning properly. In particular, fibre aids the excretion of waste and toxins from the body, preventing them from sitting in the intestine or bowel for too long. As nutritional therapist, Sarah Barber says: “Fibre latches onto nasty toxic substances in our body and helps us excrete them.”

  • Beta glucans and cholesterol

    Evidence has shown beta glucans have a special role to play in helping our bodies get rid of cholesterol. “The main function that beta glucans perform is helping lower cholesterol,” explains Sarah. “They do this by grabbing hold of the cholesterol and binding it with bile acids, which is then excreted from the body.”

    The cholesterol targeted by beta glucans includes cholesterol we have just ingested and cholesterol which has been in the body for some time. Sarah explains: “It looks at what has just come in but also at cholesterol that has built up over time – the stuff that has gone through our digestive system, through our liver and has been deposited in places like our arteries.”

    In 2009, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) concluded “a cause and effect relationship has been established between the consumption of beta glucans and the reduction of blood cholesterol concentrations.” This conclusion was based on a survey of existing evidence, which included a 1999 meta-analysis of 67 controlled trials. This meta-analysis found soluble fibres, such as beta glucan, “reduce total and LDL cholesterol [so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol in blood vessels] by similar amounts.”

  • Health benefits of beta glucans

    Research has also shown beta glucans could help modulate and stimulate the immune system. A 1994 study, published in the Annals of Surgery, found a group of high-risk surgical patients given beta glucans had significantly fewer infectious complications than those given a placebo.

    Similarly, a piece of Japanese research published in 1986 found patients with advanced gastric or colorectal cancer had prolonged survival rates if given beta glucans derived from shiitake mushrooms.

  • Sources of beta glucans

    Beta glucans are found in cereal grains such as wheat, oats, and barley - the largest concentration of which is found in the bran. Other sources include shiitake and maitake mushrooms and baker’s yeast. “The RDA of beta glucans is 3-15g with the higher end having the most beneficial effect,” says Sarah. “Oat porridge, for example, provides 3g”.

    “The sort of people who would benefit most from beta glucans are those who know they have high cholesterol or think they might be predisposed to high cholesterol because of their family history,” concludes Sarah.

Community

comments powered by Disqus

You may also be interested in:

A healthy heart

National Heart Month: Your guide to a healthy heart

Find out how to reduce your risk of heart disease and...

View article
Hypertension

What vitamins and minerals are essential for heart health?

Find out which nutrients you need for a healthy heart...

View article
Get to know your cholesterol level

Get to know your cholesterol level

Don’t let high cholesterol stop you in your tracks...

View article
Taking cod liver oil

Benefits of cod liver oil

Five reasons to take cod liver oil supplements...

View article

No statement or article should be understood as providing treatment advice. If you have a health problem consult your GP and check compatibility of new supplements with your GP or Pharmacist if you are taking any prescription medication.

Nutrition Expert sources the latest information and advice from a range of qualified doctors, nutritionists and coaches. We always endeavor to have the most up to date information possible and publish new content weekly. However with the constant research in this field sometime some of our older articles can become out of date. If you see anything that you believe needs to be updated please drop us an email at Nutritionexpert@healthspan.co.uk.

If you would like to read our terms and conditions governing ratings, reviews, social media and forums please click here. You can read our Privacy Policy here.