The body cannot produce beta glucans so they have to be acquired from external sources. They can be found in bakers yeast and in the bran of some grains such as oats, barley, rye and wheat. Other sources include some types of seaweed, and various species of mushroom.
Oat is a particularly rich source of the water-soluble fibre β-glucan and over the last 30 years its effects on health have been studied quite extensively. In November 2011, the EU Commission published its decision permitting oat beta-glucan to be described as beneficial to health.
β-Glucans or beta-glucans are known as polysaccharides - glucose being the only structural component linked by beta-type glycosidic bonds.
Why might I want to take them as a supplement?
1) Beta glucans and blood cholesterol levels
Research has found that regular consumption of beta-glucans contributes to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol concentrations. Regular consumption meaning a daily intake of 3g of beta-glucans from oats, oat bran, barley, barley bran, or from mixtures of these.
In other study research concluded that a cause-and-effect relationship has been established between the consumption of beta-glucans and the reduction of blood cholesterol concentrations. Regular consumption meaning a daily intake of at least 3g of barley beta-glucan. The lowering of the blood cholesterol level can in turn reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
2) Beta-glucans and the immune system
β-Glucans are known as "biological response modifiers" because of their ability to activate the immune system. This is specific to yeast and medicinal mushroom derived β-glucans. Immunologists have discovered that receptors on the surface of innate immune cells bind to β-glucans triggering an enhanced immune response - this enables the body's defense system to attack and overwhelm the invading pathogens.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.