Side Effects and Benefits of Beta-glucan
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Beta-Glucans are major cell wall structural components in fungi.  Beta-glucan is a
polysaccharide in the form of fiber and the main element of fiber in grains such as barley, oats,
yeast and mushrooms. Oat beta-glucans are found in various breakfast cereals and snacks.
However, the yeast-derived fiber is a more concentrated source of beta-glucan than the oat
product.  Studies have been conducted to exam if beta-glucan has health benefits on people
suffered from high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, cancer, immune and heart diseases. 
What are the potential benefits of beta-glucan?
Some researchers consider beta-glucans as biological response modifiers and they believe
beta-glucans benefit people suffered from cancer. It is because beta-glucans have been
demonstrated to prime leukocyte complement receptor 3 (CR3), thus enabling these cells to kill
tumors opsonised with complement fragment iC3b. Researchers found orally administrated yeast
beta-glucans are ingested and processed by macrophages. These macrophages secrete the
active moiety that primes neutrophil complement receptor 3 to kill iC3b-opsonised tumor cells. [3, 5]
Würsch P and Pi-Sunyer FX. Nestlé Research Centre, suggested that diabetic individuals can
benefit from diets that are high in beta-glucan, a component of oats and barley. Most cereal
products, however, tend to have a high glycemic index Cereals such as Prowashonupana barley or
fractions of oat bran are particularly high in the soluble fiber beta-glucan, which when taken with a
meal increases the viscosity of the meal bolus once it has reached the small intestine, where the
absorption of nutrients occurs. This high viscosity delays absorption. A 50% reduction in glycemic
peak can be achieved with a concentration of 10% beta-glucan in a cereal food. A significant
lowering of plasma LDL cholesterol concentrations can also be anticipated with the daily
consumption of > or = 3 g of beta-glucan.  However, studies also show inconsistent results about
the health benefits of beta-glucans may offer on people with high cholesterol. Researchers explain
the inconclusive results due to the factors such as viscosity in the gastrointestinal tract, the food
matrix and/or food processing. 
Though some researchers suggest viscosity as an important factor for delay fat or glucose
absorption, Theuwissen E and Mensink RP. Maastricht University, The Netherlands, have another
point of view. They observed that four major water-soluble fiber types-beta-glucan, psyllium, pectin
and guar gum-effectively lower serum LDL cholesterol concentrations. They also observed that the
decrease in LDL cholesterol concentration is unrelated to the differences in molecular among
these water-soluble fibers, thus, they proposed that water-soluble fibers lower the (re)absorption of
in particular bile acids. As a result hepatic conversion of cholesterol into bile acids increases, which
will ultimately lead to increased LDL uptake by the liver. Additionally, epidemiological studies
suggest that a diet high in water-soluble fiber benefit people at risk of CVD. 
What are the side effects of beta-glucans?
Water-soluble fibers can prevent the absorption of cholesterol and glucose, regardless the type of
the water-soluble fibers. Thus, there is also a possibility that beta-glucan may prevent or decrease
the absorption of any nutrients regardless the nature of the nutrients. If this is true, beta-glucan
can cause serious side effects, because of deficiency of certain nutrients. Of course, it is just a
speculation. Naumann E and co-workers from Maastricht University, Netherlands, assayed the
content of lipids and lipoproteins, noncholesterol sterols, and fat-soluble antioxidants from subjects
who took a food product enriched with beta-glucan and concluded that intake of beta-glucan does
not affect plasma concentrations of lipid-soluble antioxidants.  Well, I would say, it really
depends on the viscosity grade and amount of beta-glucan used in the food products.
 Harada T, Ohno N. Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Science Contribution of dectin-1 and
granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) to immunomodulating actions of
beta-glucan. Int Immunopharmacol. 2008 Apr;8(4):556-66. Epub 2008 Jan 16.  Kim SY, Song HJ,
Lee YY, Cho KH, Roh YK. Hallym University Biomedical issues of dietary fiber beta-glucan. J
Korean Med Sci. 2006 Oct;21(5):781-9.  Yan J, Allendorf DJ, Brandley B. University of Louisville,
Yeast whole glucan particle (WGP) beta-glucan in conjunction with antitumour monoclonal
antibodies to treat cancer. Expert Opin Biol Ther. 2005 May;5(5):691-702.  Kerckhoffs DA,
Brouns F, Hornstra G, Mensink RP. Maastricht University, Effects on the human serum lipoprotein
profile of beta-glucan, soy protein and isoflavones, plant sterols and stanols, garlic and
tocotrienols. J Nutr. 2002 Sep;132(9):2494-505. 5. Ross GD, Vetvicka V, Yan J, Xia Y, Vetvicková
University of Louisville J.Therapeutic intervention with complement and beta-glucan in cancer.
Immunopharmacology. 1999 May;42(1-3):61-74.  Bell S, Goldman VM, Bistrian BR, Arnold AH,
Ostroff G, Forse RA. Harvard Medical School, Effect of beta-glucan from oats and yeast on serum
lipids. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1999 Mar;39(2):189-202.  The role of viscous soluble fiber in the
metabolic control of diabetes. A review with special emphasis on cereals rich in beta-glucan.
Diabetes Care. 1997 Nov;20(11):1774-80.  Theuwissen E, Mensink RP. Water-soluble dietary
fibers and cardiovascular disease. Physiol Behav. 2008 May 23;94(2):285-92. Epub 2008 Jan 5.
 Naumann E, van Rees AB, Onning G, Oste R, Wydra M, Mensink RP. Beta-glucan
incorporated into a fruit drink effectively lowers serum LDL-cholesterol concentrations. Am J Clin
Nutr. 2006 Mar;83(3):601-5.