What Is Beta-Glucan? The Heart-Healthy Fiber Explained

Medically Reviewed on 7/27/2022
What Is Beta-Glucan? The Heart-Healthy Fiber Explained
Learn about how beta-glucan works and 7 important health benefits

Beta-glucan is a type of soluble dietary fiber that belongs to the category of complex carbohydrates or polysaccharides. It is derived from plants such as oats, barley, wheat, rye, and mushrooms and is found in the cell walls of yeasts, bacteria, fungus, and algae (such as seaweed). 

Learn about how beta-glucan works and the 7 important health benefits.

How does beta-glucan work?

As a soluble fiber, beta-glucan dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance, slowing the passage of food as it passes through the digestive tract. 

Beta-glucan slows the absorption of sugar in your bloodstream. Bacteria in the stomach cause beta-glucan to ferment and produce short-chain fatty acids. This helps break down glycogen in the liver, which regulates glucose metabolism and protects against insulin resistance.

Beta-glucan also reduces the absorption of cholesterol in your intestines, which can support heart health by keeping blood cholesterol at healthy levels.

Beta-glucan stimulates the immune system to produce more immune cells that fight infection. It appears to work by activating immunological activities, such as monocyte or macrophage activation as well as the enhanced production of immunoglobulin and natural killer and T cells.

7 health benefits of beta-glucan

1. Heart health

Studies have shown that beta-glucan consumption improves total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart disease.

The FDA certification of beta-glucan for heart health is limited to a food-based intake of beta-glucans (3 grams or more) from whole oats or barley in the context of a low saturated-fat and low-cholesterol diet.

2. Regulates blood sugar levels

Both oat beta-glucans and fungus beta-glucans have been shown to lower blood glucose levels, which may help reduce the risk of acquiring type II diabetes and improve blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Studies have shown that beta-glucan alone is not enough to maintain blood sugar levels, but it may be used to supplement a balanced diet.

3. Promotes gut health

Beta-glucan is a soluble fiber that absorbs water and adds bulk to stools, promoting bowel regularity and preventing constipation and diarrhea.

Beta-glucans act as prebiotics, nourishing the healthy bacteria in your stomach and balancing gut flora.

Studies have shown that beta-glucan can help relieve gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort in people with inflammatory bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease when combined with inositol and digestive enzymes.

4. Aids in weight loss

Because beta-glucan is a type of fiber, it can help promote satiety and thus reduce overall calorie intake. 

5. Boosts immunity

Beta-glucan strengthens the immune system by activating phagocytic cells and immunological proteins, which quickly and efficiently detect and eliminate bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing germs.

6. Helps prevents cancer

According to a preliminary study, beta-glucan may activate cancer-fighting cells, such as natural killer cells and T cells, to attack cancer cells and even prevent them from spreading.

However, more studies are needed to determine the exact effect of beta-glucan on cancer spread.

7. Improves skin health

Some skin care products contain beta-glucan as an anti-aging ingredient. Although the exact mechanism of action is unclear, it is believed that beta-glucan promotes wound healing by infiltrating macrophages and causing tissue granulation owing to collagen formation.


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What are recommended dosages of beta-glucan?

Beta-glucan can be obtained through diet or supplements (oral pills, topical agents, or intravenous injections).

  • Diet: There are 3 grams of beta-glucan in 1 ½ cups of cooked oats or three packets of instant oatmeal. There are 2.5 grams of beta-glucan in 1 cup of cooked pearl barley. Higher intake, ranging from 7-10 grams per day, appears to have additional advantages, such as reducing appetite and calorie consumption.
  • Supplements: Concentrated beta-glucan supplements and topical treatments are available in the form of capsules, powders, and creams. These are often made from yeast, oats, or barley and can be consumed blended with juice or water 1-2 times a day. Applying lotions containing beta-glucan to sensitive skin may help alleviate symptoms such as irritation and eczema flare-ups.
  • Intravenous administration: Beta-glucan may be administered to prevent infections before and after surgery. A dosage of 0.5-2 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight is the usual dosage. In rare cases, higher doses of 20-50 mg a day may be administered if the patient is at high risk of infection.

What are side effects of beta-glucan supplements?

Beta-glucan extracted from high-quality yeast is the purest and most effective type of beta-glucan supplement. However, some people may experience gastrointestinal issues such as nausea and diarrhea after the initial dose, because the body needs some time to adapt to the fiber.

Intravenous beta-glucan in higher doses can cause stronger side effects such as:

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Medically Reviewed on 7/27/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Beta-Glucan. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/beta-glucan

Beta-Glucans - Uses, Side Effects, and More: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1041/beta-glucans