Beta-glucan is one type of dietary fiber that is naturally found in the cell walls of, fungi, bacteria, yeasts, and some cereal grains such as barley and oats and to a lesser extent in rye and wheat. It is a glucose polymer that has shown immense potential in lowering insulin resistance and regulating blood cholesterol levels, assisting the immune system to ward off cancer, and reducing the risk of obesity.
Benefits of beta-glucans as a source of dietary fiber
Fiber supports good health by lowering and regulating cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Fiber is also helpful in reducing constipation and bowel issues. Because it is a soluble fiber, beta-glucans can slow down the transit of food in the digestive system so that it takes longer for the body to digest it. Slower digestion also means that the body does not absorb sugar as quickly which assists in preventing blood spikes and regulating sugar levels. Because it is indigestible, beta-glucans can pass through the whole digestive tract carrying cholesterol out with it, helping lower cholesterol levels. Both oats and barley foods have been shown to lower the risk of glucose intolerance by decelerating glucose absorption following meals. Sources of oat beta-glucan include oat bran, oatmeal, and rolled oats which can all be consumed as breakfast cereals or be included in various baked goods like bread, muesli, muffins, and biscuits.
Beta-glucans are used for a number of medicinal purposes such as for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. They can also be used to boost the immune system in individuals whose body defenses have been weakened by conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome or treatments like radiation or chemotherapy. Apart from treating the common cold and flu symptoms, beta-glucans are also used to treat a number of health conditions ranging from allergies, Lyme disease, ear infections to skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and wrinkles.
How to use
Beta-glucans that are sourced from natural foods such as mushrooms and cereals are safe to use since they are present in their natural form in these foods. However, those that are taken in supplemental form need to be extracted from reliable sources. Supplement manufacturers are not FDA regulated so there may be a chance of possible contamination as well as false marketing claims. For individuals who may suffer from autoimmune conditions, caution needs to be practiced when taking beta-glucans since they can stimulate the immune system and pose health problems for these people.
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