Benefits of beta-glucan: heart health, blood sugar and immunity
Beta-glucans. β-glucans. Β-D-glucose polysaccharides.
Whatever fancy word you wanna call them, beta-glucans are pretty dang important. They’re a type of soluble fibre found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeast and plants.
While many only associate soluble fibre with a healthy amount of time spent on the loo, having it in your diet brings a wealth of other health benefits… from reducing high cholesterol to aiding immunity to regulating blood sugar.
So, let’s take a look at the health benefits of beta-glucan (and how you can serve it up in your daily routine).
What is beta-glucan?
So, we know beta-glucan is a type of soluble fibre found in the cell walls of various food sources (AKA the crème da la crème for healthy regular poops).
But what many don’t realise is that not all fibre is created equal. And the benefits of fibre go far beyond your daily bowel movements.
To break it down like a d-floor, there’s insoluble fibre and soluble fibre.
As the name suggests, soluble fibre dissolves in water into a gel-like substance. In most cases soluble fibre is fermentable in your gut, making it a great source of food for your gut’s bacteria (prebiotics). Soluble fibre can slow down digestion and contribute to a range of health benefits, from supporting heart health, regulating blood sugar and fighting inflammation.
Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, doesn’t dissolve in water. When it passes through the digestive system it remains intact. This can speed up digestion and relieve constipation. We’re talking softer, larger and regular poops, people.
A healthy diet should have both soluble and insoluble fibre, and it’s common for foods to contain both.
In saying that, foods that are particularly rich in soluble fibre include…
- Sweet potato
Foods that are rich in insoluble fibre include…
- Whole-wheat flour
- Wheat bran
Now, let’s bring it back to beta-glucan: a must-have soluble fibre.
Benefits of beta-glucan
Research suggests that beta-glucan can lower the levels of bad cholesterol, which as a result can reduce the risk of heart disease. An 8-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled randomised clinical trial (AKA a legit study) put beta-glucans in oat fibre to the test. The results found that after 8 weeks of supplements, total cholesterol was reduced by almost 9%. Wowza.
The immune system is a pretty big deal for us humans. And early studies suggest beta-glucan could activate immune cells and prevent infection by bacteria, viruses and pathogenic microorganisms.  Neat. Not only that, beta-glucans are recognised as biological response modifiers (substances that can modify immune responses) showing potential to prevent cancer-causing activity and tumour growth.  But – and this is a big but – more human research is needed before we go making any wild claims.
Blood sugar regulation
Early research suggests a diet rich in beta-glucan could help to regulate blood sugar. One study added oat-derived beta-glucan to meals that were rich in carbohydrates (mmmm pasta). The results found that adding beta-glucans can reduce blood sugar and insulin levels after eating – a positive sign for people living with diabetes.  But you know the drill: further study is needed.
Beta-glucans can have a prebiotic effect, which basically means they act as a food source for your gut’s healthy bacteria.  And with the gut microbiome having an effect on so many facets of health – from mental wellbeing to immunity – it’s easy to see how beta-glucans can be the secret sauce (or polysaccharide) to good health.
As Beta-glucans can positively impact the gut microbiome, they show promising potential to influence appetite and assist metabolic syndrome, gastrointestinal conditions and obesity.  But significant evidence is still lacking so don’t take this as your weight loss gospel.
What foods are high in beta-glucan?
So, now we’ve talked the talk, but how do we walk the beta-glucan walk?
Many researchers agree that a daily dose of 3g of beta-glucan is recommended to decrease cholesterol. To put that in context, this equates to roughly one cup of oats. So maybe it’s time to take a leaf from your grandma’s book and serve the hot stuff for breaky.
In addition to oats, good sources of beta-glucan include…
- Whole wheat
- Nutritional yeast
- Medicinal mushrooms
Beta-glucans in medicinal mushrooms
Call us biased, but we’re particularly intrigued by the beta-glucan content in medicinal mushrooms. You see, fungi contain a tough cell wall called “chitin” that’s bursting with the stuff.
Turkey Tail, Maitake and Reishi are three types of mushrooms that are naturally rich in beta-glucans, holding the potential to nourish the gut, lower cholesterol, boost immunity, support the heart and regulate blood sugar.
You can discover more about each mushroom here:
At Natura Mushrooms, we grow, harvest and source a range of medicinal mushrooms to enhance your mind, body and spirit. If you’re wondering which beta-glucan rich mushroom variety is right for you, take a look at our mushroom supplement purchasing guide.