Beta glucans are sugars that are found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, algae, lichens, and plants, such as oats and barley. They are sometimes used as medicine.
Beta glucans are used for high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Beta glucans are also used to boost the immune system in people whose body defenses have been weakened by conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, or physical and emotional stress; or by treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy. Beta glucans are also used for colds (common cold), flu (influenza), H1N1 (swine) flu, allergies, hepatitis, Lyme disease, asthma, ear infections, aging, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
People apply beta glucans to the skin for dermatitis, eczema, wrinkles, bedsores, wounds, burns, diabetic ulcers, and radiation burns.
Healthcare providers sometimes give beta glucans by IV (intravenously) or by injection into the muscle to treat cancer and to boost the immune system in people with HIV/AIDS and related conditions. Beta glucans are also given by IV to prevent infection in people after surgery.
Healthcare providers sometimes give beta glucans by a shot under the skin (subcutaneously) for treating and reducing the size of skin tumors resulting from cancer that has spread.
In manufacturing, beta glucans are used as a food additive in products such as salad dressings, frozen desserts, sour cream, and cheese spreads.
There are several beta glucan supplement products that claim beta glucans taken by mouth can only be absorbed if the product is prepared by a special patented process that “micronizes” beta glucan particles to a size of 1 micron or less. However, there is no reliable evidence to support such a claim.
How it works
Beta glucans might lower blood cholesterol by preventing the absorption of cholesterol from food in the stomach and intestines, when it is taken by mouth. When given by injection, beta glucans might stimulate the immune system by increasing chemicals which prevent infections.
Likely EffectiveHigh cholesterol
Taking beta-glucans made from yeast or barley seems to reduce total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol in people with high cholesterol after several weeks of treatment. However, there is some research that suggests beta-glucans do not affect cholesterol levels. The conflicting evidence seems to result from how products containing beta-glucans are processed.
Beta-glucans are LIKELY SAFEfor most adults when taken by mouth in amounts commonly found in foods
Beta-glucans are POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth, used intravenously (by IV), injected into the muscle, or applied to the skin in medicinal amounts for a short time period. Do not take more than 15 grams per day by mouth, and do not use it for longer than 8 weeks. Intravenous solutions that have microparticles are not safe. They might cause spleen problems, blood clots, and other dangerous disorders.The potential side effects of beta-glucans, when taken by mouth, are not known. When used by injection, beta-glucans can cause chills, fever, pain at the injection site, headache, back and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, high or low blood pressure, flushing, rashes, decreased number of white blood cells, and increased urine. People with AIDS who take beta-glucans have developed thickening of the skin of the hands and feet.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of beta-glucans duringpregnancyandbreast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.Are there any interactions with medications?
AIDS/HIV or AIDS-related complex (ARC): Thick patches of skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet (keratoderma) can develop in people with AIDS/HIV or ARC who receive beta-glucans made from yeast. The condition can start during the first 2 weeks of treatment and then disappear 2 to 4 weeks after use of beta-glucans stops.
Taking beta -glucans with the drug indomethacin might increase the risk developing for life-threatening side effects to indomethacin. Until more is known about this potential interaction, be cautious when taking beta -glucans with indomethacin.Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants)
Beta-glucans might decrease blood pressure in some people. Taking beta-glucans along with medications used for lowering high blood pressure might cause your blood pressure to go too low. However, it is not known if this is a big concern. Do not take too much beta-glucans if you are taking medications for high blood pressure.Some medications for high blood pressure include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), losartan (Cozaar), valsartan (Diovan), diltiazem (Cardizem), Amlodipine (Norvasc), hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDiuril), furosemide (Lasix), and many othersBeta-glucans increase the immune system. By increasing the immune system, beta-glucans might decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system.Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.