What are Beta Glucans?

Beta glucans have been a relatively popular conversation topic in the health and wellness space for some time, with the soluble fiber seeming to have a whole host of health benefits particularly when it comes to immune support. The question about the naturally occurring polysaccharides is of course do they actually work and what actually are beta glucans.

So What Are Beta Glucans?

Beta glucans are a type of soluble fiber that can be found in the cell walls of plants, certain yeasts, bacteria, fungi, and algae. They’re most commonly extracted from mushrooms, leading them to be the focal point of a lot of claims made by manufacturers of in particular lion’s mane and reishi based products.

They do seem to have some beneficial effects on the body as far as the studies go, particularly when it comes to gut health.  [1]

Because beta glucans are not digested in the intestines but instead form a gel-like substance when mixed with water this then slows down the digestion process and provides various health benefits. As well as potentially helping with issues such as leaky gut. [2]

The Role of Beta Glucans in Digestion

This slowing effect of beta glucans can even in theoryassist in weight management by reducing the urge to overeat. At least according to some of the early studies involving mushroom products and weight loss. [3]

Additionally, beta glucans slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream leading to more stable blood sugar levels. [4]

Cholesterol Management with Beta Glucans

Early research has suggested that beta glucans can reduce the levels of total cholesterol and LDL more commonly known as bad cholesterol in the blood. [5]

Beta Glucans and Immune System Support

This is of course where beta glucans get most of their conversation time at the moment. In the last couple of years mushroom supplements have become known for their immunostimulating properties. And there is something too this, although the studies are relatively new. It seems beta glucans can activate the immune system and enhance the function of immune cells such as macrophages and natural killer cells. This basically means the cells that help your body fight infection. [6] 

That’s because the way beta glucans and specific cell surface receptors interact actually triggers a response that boosts immune defense. [7] 

This what is called an immune-modulating effect. And once again the research is relatively new, but it is particularly interesting for people undergoing immunosuppressive treatments or those looking to strengthen their immune system.

Bone Health and Osteoporosis Prevention

Beta glucans have demonstrated some anti-osteoporotic activities, making them potentially beneficial for bone health. Studies have shown that beta glucans can mobilize progenitor cells from bone marrow although this is mostly on animals and relatively early in the research process. It is interesting to watch however for it’s future potential. [8] 

Blood Pressure Management

Once again we’re looking at beta glucan performance in animal studies, so make sure to take this with a pinch of salt, But, early results suggest diets containing beta glucans from mushrooms like shiitake and maitake have been shown to decrease blood pressure. And in humans clinical trials with foods containing oat beta glucans have demonstrated a reduction in blood pressure in individuals with a higher body mass index. Although there were some other issues with this study in that we don’t actually know what meals they were replacing with the oats. [9]

Diabetes and Blood Sugar Control

Lastly there’s some research that has shown that beta glucans can improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes. Studies have demonstrated that beta glucans can reduce fasting blood sugar levels and improve long-term blood sugar regulation. This seems to work in the same way that beta glucans can help digestion in general. By slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates, beta glucans can in theory prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar levels after meals. [10]

Exploring the Sources of Beta-Glucans

Beta glucans aren’t just in mushrooms and it’s worth noting that there’s a few studies that comes from the other various natural sources, including yeast and cereals. Medicinal mushrooms however are generally the most common source.

References

1 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5618583/

2 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10198134/

3 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3236515/

4 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5810204/

5 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2663451/

6 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17895634/

7 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7770584/

8 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8036280/

9 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37513599/

10 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25561108/




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