Beta-glucans are most commonly used for heart disease and high cholesterol. They are also used for many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support many of these uses.
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-glucans 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-glucans particles. However, there is no reliable evidence to support such a claim.
How does it work ?
Uses & Effectiveness ?
Likely Effective for
- Heart disease. Foods high in beta-glucans can be used as part of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet to prevent heart disease. Research shows that a person must eat at least 3.6 grams of beta-glucans or other soluble fibers each day to reduce the risk for heart disease. Oat and barley products contain large amounts of beta-glucans.
- High cholesterol. Taking beta-glucans made from oats or barley for several weeks seems to reduce total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol in people with high cholesterol. The typical dose used is 3-10 grams daily. But not all research agrees. This may be due to how beta-glucans products are processed.
Possibly Effective for
- Hay fever. Some research shows that taking beta-glucans daily for 4 weeks reduces symptoms of hay fever.
- Cancer of the cervix. There is some evidence that giving a specific kind of beta-glucans as an injection into the vein (by IV) can extend life in women with advanced cervical cancer when used with standard cancer treatment. However, beta-glucans treatment has to be given for at least one year.
- Infection after surgery. Giving a specific kind of beta-glucans made from yeast as an injection into the vein (by IV) seems to lower the chance for infection after surgery. Beta-glucans also seem to reduce the risk of a serious infection called sepsis in trauma patients.
Insufficient Evidence for
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis). Early research shows that applying a cream containing beta-glucans to the skin daily for 6 months can improve itching and flares from eczema by a small amount.
- Canker sores. Early research shows that taking 10 mg of beta-glucans daily for 20 days reduces canker sores.
- Colon cancer, rectal cancer. Early research shows that giving a specific kind of beta-glucans as an injection into the vein (by IV) might delay cancer growth in some people with colon and rectal cancer when used with standard cancer treatment.
- Critical illness (trauma). Early research in people who are hospitalized due to trauma shows that adding beta-glucans to tube feeds does not improve survival or reduce the length of time in the hospital. But it might help them to breathe on their own sooner.
- Diabetes. Beta-glucans don't seem to improve blood sugar levels in people with type 1 diabetes. It isn't clear if beta-glucans are helpful in people with type 2 diabetes. Some early research shows that eating bread containing beta-glucans made from oat improves glucose, insulin, and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Switching out rice for barley containing beta-glucans also seems to keep blood sugar from rising too much after a meal. But other research shows that eating bread or soup containing beta-glucans does not affect blood sugar or cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes. The mixed results may be due to differences in the length of time that beta-glucans were used, the amounts of beta-glucans taken, or how the beta-glucans product was prepared.
- Airway infections caused by exercise. It isn't clear if beta-glucans can help to prevent airway infections in athletes. Some early research shows that taking beta-glucans made from oat daily for 14 days does not prevent airway infections in male cyclists. Other early research shows that taking beta-glucans made from yeast daily for 45 days before and after a marathon does not prevent airway infections, although it might make symptoms less severe. But other early research shows that taking beta-glucans made from yeast daily for 4 weeks after a marathon can help prevent airway infections in runners. Also, taking beta-glucans made from mushrooms along with vitamin C for 3 months seems to reduce symptoms of airway infections in athletes.
- Head and neck cancer. Early research shows that giving a specific kind of beta-glucans as an injection into the vein (by IV) can extend life in some people with head and neck cancer when used with standard treatment.
- High blood pressure. Evidence about the effects of beta-glucans on blood pressure in people with high blood pressure is not clear. Some research shows that eating oat cereal containing beta-glucans for 6 weeks reduces blood pressure in adults with high blood pressure, while other research shows that eating oat cereal containing beta-glucans for 12 weeks does not reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. However, it does appear to reduce blood pressure in some people with a higher body mass index.
- Lung cancer. Some research shows that giving a specific kind of beta-glucans as an injection into the vein (by IV) along with standard cancer treatment does not improve survival or delay cancer growth.
- A grouping of symptoms that increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke (metabolic syndrome). Early research shows that taking beta-glucans might help to lower cholesterol levels by a small amount in people with metabolic syndrome. But it doesn't seem to improve levels of blood sugar.
- Obesity. The research on the effects of beta-glucans for weight loss is not clear. Most research shows that eating beta-glucans can increase weight loss. But other research does not agree. It is not clear which dose or type of beta-glucans, if any, might help the most with weight loss.
- Pain after surgery. Early research shows that eating bread containing 3 grams of beta-glucans made from barley daily for 3 months reduces bloating and stomach pain after stomach surgery.
- Quality of life. Early research shows that taking beta-glucans made from lentinan might help to improve mood in some people.
- Upper airway infection. Early research shows that taking beta-glucans made from yeast daily for 12 weeks improves quality of life in healthy people with upper airway infections. But it doesn't seem to shorten airway infections or make them occur less often.
- A long-term disorder of the large intestines that causes stomach pain (irritable bowel syndrome or IBS).
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
- Diabetic ulcers.
- Ear infections.
- Liver problems.
- Long-term swelling (inflammation) in the digestive tract (inflammatory bowel disease or IBD).
- Lyme disease.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Physical and emotional stress.
- Radiation burns.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Skin problems.
- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
- Other conditions.
When applied to the skin: Beta-glucans are POSSIBLY SAFE when applied in medicinal amounts for a short time period. Beta-glucans can cause skin rash.
When given by IV: Beta-glucans are POSSIBLY SAFE when used intravenously (by IV) in medicinal amounts for a short time period. 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, tiredness, decreased number of white blood cells, and increased urine.
When given as a shot: Beta-glucans are POSSIBLY SAFE when injected into the muscle. 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, tiredness, decreased number of white blood cells, and increased urine.
Special Precautions and Warnings
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 receive beta-glucans made from yeast. The condition can start during the first 2 weeks of treatment and then disappear 2 to 4 weeks after use of beta-glucans stops.
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.
Be cautious with this combination
- For heart disease: Oat or barley products that contain 3.6 grams of soluble fiber, such as beta-glucans, daily, as part of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.
- For high cholesterol: 7.5 grams of beta-glucans made from yeast has been added to juice and taken twice daily for 7-8 weeks. 3-10 grams of beta-glucans made from barley or oat have also been taken daily for up to 12 weeks.
- For hay fever: 250 mg of beta-glucans made from yeast (Wellmune WGP) daily for 4 weeks has been used.
- For cancer of the cervix: Healthcare providers give 20-40 mg of the fungal beta-glucan schizophyllan (SPG) as an injection into the vein (by IV) once or twice weekly for at least one year.
- For infection after surgery: Healthcare providers give 50 mg/m2 of beta-glucans made from yeast as an injection into the vein (by IV) once per day for 7 days to prevent infection in trauma patients undergoing exploratory surgical procedures. Also, healthcare providers give 0.5-2 mg/kg of beta-glucans made from yeast (Betafectin) by IV 1-6 hours before surgery and then repeated 4 hours, 48 hours, and 96 hours after surgery in surgical patients at high-risk for infection.
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