You probably know that fiber is good for you. But did you know that not all fiber is created equal? There are two main types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Beta-glucan is a form of soluble fiber that’s linked to many health benefits such as lower cholesterol, better heart health and supporting the immune system.
It’s more important than ever to strengthen your immune system and feel your best. Despite its many advantages, a lot of people are still unfamiliar with beta-glucan. It can be found naturally in many foods and is thought to benefit several health conditions.
Seven Benefits of Beta-Glucan:
- Support the immune system
- Lower cholesterol and enhance heart health
- Improve gut health
- Decrease inflammation
- May fight cancer
- Regulate blood sugar levels
- Lower risk of obesity
What is Beta Glucan?
Beta-glucan is a type of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves easily in water and can be broken down into a gel-like substance in the gut. Whereas insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and is left whole as it moves through the gastrointestinal tract. The body can’t produce beta-glucans, so you have to consume it from external sources.
Related: Beta-Glucans: Immune Boosting and Heart Healthy Fiber
Beta-glucan is naturally found in yeast, cereal grains and certain mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, and reishi. You can also get beta-glucan in supplement form. Beta-glucan are naturally occurring complex carbohydrates that are found in the cell walls of certain foods. It belongs to a group of sugars known as polysaccharides.
This soluble fiber has been the subject of intensifying research due to its immune-boosting effects. It’s been studied for its ability to fight viruses and infections and the way it enhances the immune system. A number of the healing properties of mushrooms can be attributed to its beta-glucan content.
How Does Beta Glucan Work?
Beta-glucan isn’t absorbed directly during the digestive process. Instead, it slows down the transit of food. What this means is that the body can take longer to digest foods which can lead to a number of health benefits. When food is digested slower, carbohydrates are absorbed more slowly. This helps to produce more steady blood sugar levels. In addition to this, beta-glucan can take cholesterol with it as it moves through the digestive system.
The specific source organism of beta-glucan can influence its health benefits. Beta-glucans from different sources vary slightly in structure. It’s this difference in the structure that’s thought to influence the effects of it. It’s suggested that the more complex the structure, the better the immune-boosting and anti-cancer effects will be.
For example, the immune-boosting benefits of beta-glucan tend to be most prominent in medicinal mushrooms. Whereas, beta-glucan derived from cereal, particularly oats, has been found useful for managing cholesterol levels. You also have yeast-derived beta-glucan from baker’s yeast.
Related:: Mushrooms: The Healing Fungus
What are the Benefits of Beta Glucan?
Support the Immune System
Beta-glucans are known as biological response modifiers. This is because they activate the immune system. The immune-boosting benefit has been specifically linked to beta-glucan from yeast and medicinal mushrooms.
Related: Boost Your Immune System with Mushroom Superfoods!
Although more evidence is needed, researchers believe that beta-glucan could have positive effects on the immune system. The precise way it does this is still unclear but scientists think that beta-glucan may stimulate the immune system helping you to fight off viruses and infection more effectively.
The healing and immune-boosting properties of mushrooms have been known for thousands of years in countries throughout the world. These types of medicinal mushrooms like reishi and shiitake contain polysaccharides that mostly belong to beta-glucans. Beta-glucans increase host immune defense by stimulating the immune system and enhancing natural killer cell function. Natural killer cells are a type of cell that play an essential role in fighting off tumors and viruses.
2. Lower Cholesterol and Enhance Heart Health
There’s evidence that beta-glucan can help boost heart health by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. Triglycerides are one of the most common types of fat in the body. When you combine high triglycerides and bad cholesterol with low levels of good cholesterol, your risk of stroke and heart attack increases.
The cholesterol-lowering benefits of beta-glucan have mainly been studied using cereal-derived beta-glucan. One study found that consuming oats with at least 3 g of beta-glucan led to a six to seven percent reduction in bad cholesterol levels.
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3. Improve Gut Health
Beta-glucans form a major part of mushrooms. Used medicinally for thousands of years, mushrooms are still a relatively untapped power in the health world. As a rich source of carbohydrates like beta-glucans, mushrooms are a good choice of prebiotic to help feed the gut. Prebiotics feed the friendly bacteria in the gut. Probiotics can feed off of it to produce a healthy and balanced microbiome.
We already know that a healthy microbiome helps produce the antibodies we need to fight off disease. Research shows that mushrooms act as a prebiotic to stimulate healthy growth of good bacteria in the gut. A healthy gut microbiome is linked to a lot of benefits like a strong immune system, brain health, heart health, good sleep, and improved mood. To boost your beta-glucan intake, try incorporating some reishi or oyster mushrooms into your diet.
Related: The Gut-Brain Connection: How Gut Health Affects Your Mood
4. Decrease Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is linked to several health conditions such as heart disease, stroke and some autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Acute inflammation is your body’s natural response to injury. But when inflammation is prolonged, it can lead to serious health problems. You can reduce inflammation in the body with a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.
Related: Reducing Inflammation with a Healthy Diet
It’s thought that beta-glucans can decrease the body’s inflammatory response. Beta-glucans from fungi have been found to exhibit a range of activities including anti-tumor, immune-stimulating, and anti-inflammatory effects. The anti-inflammatory effect comes from beta-glucans' ability to regulate inflammatory markers in the body.
5. May Fight Cancer
Initial research suggests that beta-glucan may help to combat cancer by activating several cancer-fighting cells like natural killer cells and T-cells. Preliminary studies have found that beta-glucan may help to stop the spread of cancer.
Beta-glucans may be able to treat cancer by activating certain immune cells and triggering a defensive response in the body. More research is still needed to find out the precise effect that beta-glucan has on the spread of cancer.
6. Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
Beta-glucan could be an effective way to manage diabetes as it helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Both oat and fungal beta-glucans have been shown to reduce blood glucose levels. By helping to regulate blood sugar levels, it could reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and may help to improve blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Research suggests that beta-glucan isn’t enough to regulate blood sugar levels alone, but it could potentially be used as a complementary method alongside a healthy diet.
7. Lower Risk of Obesity
In America, more than two in three adults are considered to be overweight or obese. Obesity is a global problem that can have disastrous impacts on health and quality of life. Beta-glucan may help to reduce the risk of obesity.
Research shows that mushroom-derived beta-glucan has been found to prevent obesity in initial studies. One study found that beta-glucan from turkey tail mushrooms could be beneficial in the fight against obesity. The beta-glucan exhibited anti-obesity effects through specific activity in the gut microbiome.
How to Add More Beta Glucan to Your Diet
Beta-glucan already occurs naturally in some foods such as cereal grains like oats, barley, and wheat as well as seaweed and algae. There are plenty of options to choose from when you’re looking to add more beta-glucan to your diet. You can also find it in baker’s yeast and a number of medicinal mushrooms. Mushrooms that are rich in beta-glucan include:
- Turkey tail
Another way to integrate more beta-glucan into the diet is with a supplement. Sunwarrior’s Lean Meal solution contains immune-boosting mushroom superfoods to keep your health in tip-top shape. With reishi, shiitake, maitake mushrooms, and more, you can benefit from their beta-glucan content. The meal replacement also includes organic green coffee beans, phytonutrients, probiotics, and plant-based protein.
Beta-glucan is a type of sugar you can find in medicinal mushrooms, oats, seaweed, and more. This little-known ingredient could help ensure a healthy gut and support the immune system. By enhancing the activity of natural killer cells, beta-glucan can stimulate the immune system and potentially lead to a more effective defensive barrier. Whether you add some shiitake mushrooms to a soup or whip up a smoothie with Sunwarrior’s Lean Meal, you can start experiencing the benefits of beta-glucan.
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