Beta-Glucan: How This Soluble Fiber Affects Your Lipids

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Beta-glucan is a form of soluble fiber that is widely available as a nutritional supplement. Surprisingly, beta-glucan can also be found in yeast, algae and in certain foods—including whole grains and mushrooms. Beta-glucan has been studied in a variety of health conditions, including diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and allergies. This healthy fiber has also been shown to help improve digestive and immune system health.

Because soluble fiber is known for keeping your lipid levels healthy, it is no surprise that there are quite a few studies examining the effect that beta-glucan has on high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Can Beta-Glucan Lower Your Lipids?

The lipid-lowering effect of beta-glucan has been studied in a variety of health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and in people with high or normal cholesterol levels. In these studies, anywhere between 1 to 14 grams of beta-glucan was taken for a period of time between one and 12 weeks. Beta-glucan, usually derived from oat, barley or yeast, was either taken as a supplement or added to various foods, including:

  • Porridge
  • Cereal Bars
  • Soup
  • Juice

The majority of these studies found that beta-glucan had a favorable effect on lipids, especially on total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. In these cases, total cholesterol levels were lowered by up to 17% and LDL cholesterol levels were decreased by anywhere between 2 and 16 percent.

People diagnosed with high cholesterol appeared to see a more significant lowering of their total and LDL cholesterol levels compared to those who had healthy cholesterol levels. On the other hand, there are a few other studies that did not see a notable difference in LDL or total cholesterol levels.

Triglycerides and HDL cholesterol levels did not appear to be significantly affected in many of these studies. In a few instances, there were slight, non-significant decreases in both HDL and triglycerides. 

Should Beta-Glucan Be a Part of Your Cholesterol-Lowering Plan?

There are a few studies suggesting that taking beta-glucan can help lower lipids - especially your total and LDL cholesterol levels.

Although there are plenty of beta-glucan-containing supplements on the market, you can also opt to include healthy foods high in beta-glucan in your diet, including:

  • Barley
  • Oatmeal
  • Mushrooms
  • Rye
  • Wheat
  • Seaweed

Not only will these foods add beta-glucan to your diet, they are also chock-full of other healthy nutrients.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed foods with a high beta-glucan content, such as barley and oat products, to carry a heart-healthy claim on its food packaging. This is based on earlier studies suggesting that 3 grams or more of beta-glucan in these foods can notably reduce total cholesterol.

 Oatmeal and barley contain the highest amounts of beta-glucan per serving. For example, one to one and a half cup of cooked barley or oatmeal contains about contains anywhere between 2.5 to 3 grams of beta-glucan.

A diet containing foods high in soluble fiber like beta-glucan is generally well-tolerated, but you may notice constipation, flatulence, diarrhea, or abdominal cramping if you consume a lot of fiber-rich foods. If you are considering adding beta-glucan supplements to your cholesterol-lowering regimen, you should talk to your healthcare provider first. Beta-glucan, as well as other soluble fiber products, may interact with certain medications or aggravate certain medical conditions.

Sources:

AbuMweis, SS, Jew S, and Ames NP. Beta-glucan from barley and its lipid-lowering capacity: a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. Eur J Clin Nutr 2010; 64:1472-1480.

Natural Standard. (2014). Beta-glucan [Monograph]. Retrieved from http://naturalstandard.com/databases/hw/all/patient-beta-glucan.asp

Othman, R. A., Moghadasian, M. H., and Jones, P. J. Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat beta-glucan. Nutr.Rev. 2011;69(6):299-309.

Reyna-Villasmil N, Bermudez-Pirela V, Mengual-Moreno E, et al. Meta-analysis of the effect of beta-glucan intake on blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Nutrition 2011; 27:1008-1016.

Tiwari, U. and Cummins, E. Meta-analysis of the effect of beta-glucan intake on blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Nutrition 2011;27(10):1008-1016.

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