Beta Glucans

What other names is Beta-glucans known by?

1-3,1-6-beta-glucan, 1-3,1-6-bêta-glucane, B-Glucane d'Avoine, Barley Beta-Glucan, Barley B-Glucan, beta-1,3-D-glucan, Beta-1,3/1,6-D-Glucan, Bêta-1,3/1,6-D-Glucane, Beta 1,3/1,6 Glucan, Beta 1,3/1,6 Glucane, Bêta-1,3 / 1,6 Glucanes, Beta-1,3 / 1,6 Glucans, Beta -1,3-D Glucan, Bêta -1,3-D Glucane, Bêta-1,3-D-glucane, Beta-1,3-Glucan, Bêta-1,3-Glucane, Beta 1,3 Glucan, Bêta 1,3 Glucane, Beta 1,6 Glucan, Bêta 1,6 Glucane, beta-1-6,1,3-beta-glucan, Beta 1,3 Glucans, Bêta 1,3 Glucanes, Beta Glucan, Beta-Glucan, Bêta-Glucane, Bêta-Glucane d'Avoine, Bêta-Glucane d'Orge, Bêta-Glucane Dérivé de la Levure, Bêta-glucanes, Beta Glucanos, Beta-Glucans, Beta Glycans, Beta-Glycans, Grifolan (GRN), Lentinan, Oat Beta Glucan, Oat B-Glucan, PGG Glucan, PGG-Glucan, Poly-[1-6]-Beta-D-Glucopyranosyl-[1-3]-Beta-D-Glucopyranose, Schizophyllan (SPG), SSG, Yeast-Derived Beta Glucan.

What is Beta-glucans?

Beta glucans are sugars that are found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, algae, lichens, and plants, such as oats and barley. They are sometimes used as medicine.

Beta glucans are used for high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Beta glucans are also used to boost the immune system in people whose body defenses have been weakened by conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, or physical and emotional stress; or by treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy. Beta glucans are also used for colds (common cold), flu (influenza), H1N1 (swine) flu, allergies, hepatitis, Lyme disease, asthma, ear infections, aging, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.

People apply beta glucans to the skin for dermatitis, eczema, wrinkles, bedsores, wounds, burns, diabetic ulcers, and radiation burns.

Healthcare providers sometimes give beta glucans by IV (intravenously) or by injection into the muscle to treat cancer and to boost the immune system in people with HIV/AIDS and related conditions. Beta glucans are also given by IV to prevent infection in people after surgery.

Healthcare providers sometimes give beta glucans by a shot under the skin (subcutaneously) for treating and reducing the size of skin tumors resulting from cancer that has spread.

In manufacturing, beta glucans are used as a food additive in products such as salad dressings, frozen desserts, sour cream, and cheese spreads.

There are several beta glucan supplement products that claim beta glucans taken by mouth can only be absorbed if the product is prepared by a special patented process that "micronizes" beta glucan particles to a size of 1 micron or less. However, there is no reliable evidence to support such a claim.

Likely Effective for...

  • High cholesterol. Taking beta-glucans made from yeast or barley seems to reduce total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol in people with high cholesterol after several weeks of treatment. However, there is some research that suggests beta-glucans do not affect cholesterol levels. The conflicting evidence seems to result from how products containing beta-glucans are processed.

Possibly Effective for...

  • Hay fever caused by ragweed. Research suggests that taking a specific product containing yeast beta-glucans (Wellmune WGP) daily for 4 weeks reduces allergies in people allergic to ragweed.
  • Cancer. There is some evidence that giving specific kinds of beta-glucans intravenously (IV) or as a shot into the muscle can extend life in some people with advanced cancer. However, beta-glucans treatment has to be given for at least one year.
  • Preventing infections after surgery. Using a specific blend of beta-glucans called PGG-glucans intravenously (by IV) reduces the risk of infection after surgery. Beta-glucans also seem to reduce the risk of a serious infection called sepsis in trauma patients.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Canker sores. Early research suggests that taking beta-glucans daily for 20 days reduces canker sores.
  • Diabetes. There is inconsistent evidence about the effects of beta-glucans in people with diabetes. Some early research suggests that eating oat beta-glucans daily in bread for 3 weeks improves insulin and cholesterol levels in people with diabetes. However, other research suggest that eating oat beta-glucans in bread or soup does not affect blood sugar or cholesterol levels in people with diabetes. The conflicting results may be due to the treatment duration, the amount of beta-glucans taken, or how the beta-glucans product was prepared.
  • HIV/AIDS. Early research shows that using beta-glucans once or twice weekly intravenously (by IV) increases immune function in people with HIV.
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV). Early research suggests that applying beta-glucans to the skin reduces skin reactions related to HPV treatment.
  • High blood pressure. There is inconsistent evidence about the effects of beta-glucans on blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. Early research suggests that eating oat cereal containing beta-glucans does not reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. However, it appears to reduce blood pressure in some people with a higher body mass index.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Early research suggests that taking a specific product (Biointol) containing beta-glucans, inositol, and digestive enzymes reduces pain, bloating, and gas, but not other symptoms of IBS.
  • Recovery after surgery. Early research suggests that eating bread containing barley beta-glucans daily for 3 months reduces bloating and stomach pain after stomach surgery.
  • Lung infections. There is inconsistent evidence about the effects of beta-glucans on lung infections. Early research suggests that taking a specific beta-glucans product (Wellmune WGP) daily for 12 weeks improves quality of life, but it does not appear to have an effect on specific symptoms. Other research shows that taking beta-glucans might reduce the risk of lung infections in athletes, including runners or cyclists.
  • Yeast infection (vaginal candidiasis). Early research suggests that applying a product containing beta-glucans to the skin might reduce the risk of developing future yeast infections in women with a history of yeast infections.
  • Weight loss. Early research suggests that eating a cereal and snacks containing beta-glucans daily for 3 months does not affect weight loss in people who are overweight.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
  • Physical and emotional stress.
  • Colds.
  • Flu.
  • Liver problems.
  • Lyme disease.
  • Asthma.
  • Ear infections.
  • Aging.
  • Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Multiple sclerosis.
  • Skin problems.
  • Wrinkles.
  • Bedsores.
  • Wounds.
  • Burns.
  • Diabetic ulcers.
  • Radiation burns.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate beta-glucans for these uses.

Quick GuideLower Your Cholesterol, Save Your Heart

Lower Your Cholesterol, Save Your Heart

How does Beta-glucans work?

Beta glucans might lower blood cholesterol by preventing the absorption of cholesterol from food in the stomach and intestines, when it is taken by mouth. When given by injection, beta glucans might stimulate the immune system by increasing chemicals which prevent infections.

Are there safety concerns?

Beta-glucans are LIKELY SAFEfor most adults when taken by mouth in amounts commonly found in foods.

Beta-glucans are POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth, used intravenously (by IV), injected into the muscle, or applied to the skin in medicinal amounts for a short time period. Do not take more than 15 grams per day by mouth, and do not use it for longer than 8 weeks. Intravenous solutions that have microparticles are not safe. They might cause spleen problems, blood clots, and other dangerous disorders.

The potential side effects of beta-glucans, when taken by mouth, are not known. When used by injection, beta-glucans can cause chills, fever, pain at the injection site, headache, back and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, high or low blood pressure, flushing, rashes, decreased number of white blood cells, and increased urine. People with AIDS who take beta-glucans have developed thickening of the skin of the hands and feet.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of beta-glucans during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

AIDS/HIV or AIDS-related complex (ARC): Thick patches of skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet (keratoderma) can develop in people with AIDS/HIV or ARC who receive beta-glucans made from yeast. The condition can start during the first 2 weeks of treatment and then disappear 2 to 4 weeks after use of beta-glucans stops.

Are there any interactions with medications?

Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.
Talk with your health provider.

Taking beta -glucans with the drug indomethacin might increase the risk developing for life-threatening side effects to indomethacin. Until more is known about this potential interaction, be cautious when taking beta -glucans with indomethacin.

Medications for high blood pressure (Antihypertensive drugs)
Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.
Talk with your health provider.

Beta-glucans might decrease blood pressure in some people. Taking beta-glucans along with medications used for lowering high blood pressure might cause your blood pressure to go too low. However, it is not known if this is a big concern. Do not take too much beta-glucans if you are taking medications for high blood pressure.

Some medications for high blood pressure include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), losartan (Cozaar), valsartan (Diovan), diltiazem (Cardizem), Amlodipine (Norvasc), hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDiuril), furosemide (Lasix), and many others

Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants)
Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.
Talk with your health provider.

Beta-glucans increase the immune system. By increasing the immune system, beta-glucans might decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system.

Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.

Dosing considerations for Beta-glucans.

The following doses have been studied in scientific research:

  • For high cholesterol: 7.5 grams twice daily beta glucans fiber from yeast added to juice has been used. Barley-derived beta glucans have also been used in doses of 3-10 grams/day.
  • Healthcare providers give beta glucans intravenously (IV) for HIV infection, to extend life in patients with cancer, and to prevent infection in certain patients undergoing surgery.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

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Last Editorial Review: 3/29/2011