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.
How does it 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.
Likely Effective for:
- High cholesterol. Taking beta glucans made from yeast or barley seems to reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in people with high cholesterol after several weeks of treatment.
Possibly Effective for:
- Increasing survival in people with cancer when given intravenously (by IV) or by injection along with conventional treatment. There is some evidence that giving specific kinds of beta glucans intravenously (IV) or by injection can extend life in some people with advanced cancer. But beta glucans have to be given long-term, at least a year.
- Preventing infections in people who have had surgery or trauma when given by injection.
- Boosting the immune system in people with AIDS or HIV infection.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
- Physical and emotional stress.
- Liver problems.
- Lyme disease.
- Ear infections.
- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Skin problems.
- Diabetic ulcers.
- Radiation burns.
- Other conditions.
Side Effects & Safety
Beta glucans are LIKELY SAFE for most adults when taken by mouth or when the intravenous solution is used 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.
There isn't enough information to know whether beta glucans are safe when applied to the skin or delivered by injection under the skin.
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 are receiving beta glucans made from yeast. The condition can start during the first two weeks of treatment and then disappear two to four weeks after use of beta glucans stops.
Moderate Interaction Be cautious with this combination
- Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants) interacts with BETA GLUCANS
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.
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.