Barley beta glucan: Eden’s ingredient spotlight

what is beta glucan

 

In this episode of "Eden's ingredient spotlight," we're highlighting one of our most powerful ingredients — "barely beta-glucan."

What is beta glucan?

Beta glucan is a type of prebiotic fiber found in many cereal grains — including oats, barley, wheat, and rye. It is also found in fungus (mushrooms), yeast, bacteria, and algae or seaweed. Like several other prebiotic fibers, beta glucan has a demonstrated ability to increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut, associated with promoting a healthier overall gut microbiome. What other health benefits result from that? Consumption of foods (or supplements) containing beta glucan have demonstrated strong associations with improved blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, weight management, and a stronger immune system.  

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The power of prebiotics

All types of fiber (insoluble and soluble fiber) are crucial components of a healthy diet, but particular types of fiber — prebiotics, notably — have unique benefits that support greater health and well-being. Prebiotics increase nutrient absorption, promote the growth of beneficial microbes, and support a healthy immune system. And barley beta glucan is one such health-promoting prebiotic substance.

You can find prebiotics naturally occurring in many vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.  If you find that you are not consuming quite enough prebiotic fiber naturally from foods, prebiotic supplements may be a convenient alternative. Containing five carefully chosen prebiotics (including barley beta glucan), along with choice selections of probiotics and polyphenols, Eden's 3-in-1 Synbiotic Superblend can help you maximize your metabolic, cardiovascular and immune health.

Health benefits of beta glucan

Beta glucan is the same prebiotic fiber component from source to source; however, depending on the source, beta glucan may have a different molecular mass, viscosity, and branching structure, which may affect its overall solubility (ability to dissolve in water) and quality. 

Beta glucan and blood sugar management

Fiber plays an important role in blood sugar regulation and diabetes management. Unlike other carbohydrates that are digested by the body and broken down into sugar, fiber is not digestible, which helps slow the overall rate at which your body breaks down food. Foods high in fiber help to minimize blood sugar spikes that contribute to an ineffective use of insulin in the body for blood sugar regulation.

As a type of fiber, beta glucan can be helpful in managing blood sugar levels. Numerous studies have attempted to describe the impact of beta glucan on blood sugar. One study found that consuming six or more grams of beta glucan per day, for at least four weeks, improved blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes. The efficacy of beta glucan on post-prandial blood sugar levels must also factor in the ratio of beta glucan fiber to carbohydrates. Studies have found that there must be at least four grams of beta glucan fiber per 30 grams of carbohydrates for beta glucan to have a significant impact on post-prandial blood sugar levels.

Beta glucan and cholesterol

The word "cholesterol" tends to scare people off because it's typically brought up when someone has too much or high cholesterol. However, cholesterol is actually necessary for certain human biological processes, including forming the structural component of cell membranes and producing sex hormones. Cholesterol also plays a role in bile production; bile is a fluid produced by the liver that helps the body break down fats and absorb nutrients. 

There are two main types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL-C) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL-C). HDL-C helps the body get rid of excess cholesterol in the blood; LDL-C clogs arteries and contributes to cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol becomes harmful when elevated levels of it — particularly of lower-density lipoproteins — are found in the blood. Taking measures to lower cholesterol levels to a healthy level can decrease your risk of developing heart disease and other cardiometabolic disorders. 

Beta glucan is an effective nutrient that helps reduce cholesterol levels. In a 10-week blinded controlled study that consisted of participants with elevated levels of LDL-C, participants were split into four treatment groups that consumed varied amounts of barley beta glucan (3g or 5g) at different molecular weights (high or low). The study found that after six weeks, the treatment group that consumed 5 grams of high molecular weight barley beta glucan, experienced a 15% decrease in mean LDL-C levels. The treatment group that consumed 5 grams of low molecular weight barley beta glucan in the same period experienced a 13% decrease in mean LDL-C levels. With both high and low molecular weight barley beta glucan at 3 grams, both treatment groups experienced a 9% decrease in mean LDL-C levels. This study shows that barley beta glucan is beneficial for reducing harmful cholesterol levels, although its effectiveness, in part, depends on the quality of the beta glucan (determined by its molecular weight). 

Beta glucan and blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, increases the strain on your heart and blood vessels because they are working harder to pump and circulate blood throughout the body. Normal levels of blood pressure fall under 120/80 mmHg, while high blood pressure begins when blood pressure is 130/80 mmHg or above.

Beta glucan may have antihypertensive properties that benefit blood pressure. In a study of spontaneously hypertensive rats, beta glucan prevented the increase in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, demonstrating a potential beneficial impact on hypertension and cardiovascular health. In a human trial consisting of participants with elevated blood pressure numbers (systolic BP, diastolic BP, or both), participants were asked to consume foods containing oat beta glucan. While recorded blood pressure responses were not impacted nearly as much as expected, the results of this trial did observe a decrease in blood pressure in obese participants with a body mass index above the median. More studies, particularly human studies, are needed to confirm the impact of beta glucan on blood pressure. However, beta glucan does have an observable impact on other markers of metabolic health (blood sugar and cholesterol) that may reduce the risk of developing serious health conditions — including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. 

Beta glucan and weight loss

Fiber is an essential macronutrient that helps boost satiety and modulate food intake, which can aid in weight loss efforts. In particular, beta glucan, along with other soluble fibers such as guar gum, pectin, and psyllium, have strong[er] associations to hunger reduction. One study, consisting of Japanese participants with waist circumferences (WC) equal to or over 85cm for men and 90cm for women, compared the effects of consuming barley that either contained no traces of beta glucan or high amounts of beta glucan. The results showed a significant decrease in waist circumference and visceral fat area for both groups. However, the group that consumed barley with beta glucan experienced a greater reduction in VFA (-10.7cm^2 vs -6.8cm^2) than the non-beta glucan group. While more studies with consistent beta glucan parameters (such as molecular weight, dosage, and frequency) are needed to confirm the impact of beta glucan on weight loss and management, barley, containing beta glucan, may help to boost satiety and reduce food intake, as opposed to other grains. See our guide on Barley vs wheat to learn more about the nutritional differences between the two grains. 

Beta glucan and immune system

Beta glucan has been widely studied for its beneficial impact on the immune system, particularly for "modulating the inflammatory and antimicrobial activity of neutrophils and macrophages," as well as other innate immune cells such as dendritic cells, granulocytes, and natural killer cells.  One way that beta glucan helps the immune system is by training innate immune cells to have a more effective response against harmful threats in the body, such as a pathogen invasion. This may be why beta glucan is strongly associated with anticancer properties, particularly for HPV or cervical cancer, and certain other cancers, as well. While beta glucan has not been found to reverse cancer, it may inhibit the growth of cancer and tumors and so prove efficacious when used in conjunction with traditional cancer therapies. 

Best sources of beta glucan

Beta glucan is found in cereal grains, fungi, yeast, and seaweed. Of all the cereal grains, oat and barley have the greatest beta glucan content, making them ideal staples for your everyday diet. Medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake, maitake, and the infamous turkey tail also contain beta glucan, with turkey tail ranking amongst the top for highest beta glucan content. However, wild-sourced grains and mushrooms both have greater beta glucan contents than their non-wild-sourced counterparts. 

As with other vitamins and nutrients, beta glucan is ideally consumed through the foods that you eat. However, if you find yourself on the shorter end of the daily recommended value for dietary fiber, a beta glucan supplement may be a beneficial addition to your diet. Eden's synbiotic supplement blends carefully selected prebiotics (including barley beta glucan), probiotics, and polyphenols.

3-in-1 Synbiotic Superblend

Can barley beta glucan cause side effects?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has increased the recommended daily value for fiber from 25g to 28g. However, drastically changing from a low-fiber to a high-fiber diet may cause some discomfort or pain in the digestive area. You may experience symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, or cramping. Therefore, increasing your fiber intake substantially over a very short period is ill-advised; instead, increase your intake gradually. 

While beta glucan is not known to directly cause these digestive symptoms, people can experience certain side effects depending upon the source of the beta glucan. Grains that contain beta glucan derived from barley and wheat tend not to be gluten-free, so those individuals with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity are advised to avoid consuming both grain products. (However, in supplement form, the quantity of barley beta glucan may be much lower than it is in whole food sources; for example, the Eden's symbiotic contains barley beta glucan that has only trace amounts of gluten (<40ppm), so the product may be better tolerated by people with gluten sensitivity.)

Key takeaways

Beta glucan fiber benefits everyone, and especially those individuals with high blood sugar, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and/or excess body weight or fat. Its proven track record at improving these markers of metabolic health makes it an alluring staple to include in anyone's daily diet. When you are not getting enough of this fiber from food, beta glucan supplements are accessible options that allow you to reap the wonderful benefits of this prebiotic. One such supplement that combines the power of one of the best beta glucans, sourced from barley, together with a fine selection of other prebiotics, several probiotics and polyphenols, is Eden's Synbiotic Supplement.

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