We are fortunate to be living in a world where medicine is continually striving to develop better medicines that can take care of a wide array of diseases. Still, many of them come from natural sources. Beta glucans are a good example, which are soluble fibers usually extracted from cell walls of bacteria, algae, fungi, yeasts and even parts of certain plants like oats and barley. Today, drugs based on beta glucan are being successfully used to combat a wide range of diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer and even the progression of HIV/AIDS.
Beta glucan is known by various names like amylodextrins, baker’s yeast, beta glycans, GD and lentinan. Despite the abundance of sources, it is basically obtained from yeast and grains. The former type can easily be incorporated into food, and has a more pleasant taste because it doesn’t become viscous in water as it’s less soluble. Nevertheless, it’s known that oat derived beta glucans are therapeutically more efficient. Although beta glucan therapy is a relatively new subject, some forms of therapy such as cholesterol reduction have received FDA approval. Meanwhile, extensive researches about potential benefits of beta glucans are still in progress.
Beta glucan may be a good choice for those who are trying to defeat obesity. Oral administration is known to be effective in reducing LDL or “bad” cholesterol, without any significant effects on HDL or “good” cholesterol, leading to weight loss with long-term use. A beta glucan collagen matrix used for covering partial thickness burns have also yielded good results, while bodily levels of beta glucan can also help doctors detect and monitor fungal infections. Through immune stimulation, the substance can enhance the effects of cancer treatments and even prolong the lives of patients suffering from incurable gastric cancer. Studies have also revealed its effectiveness in preventing heart damages during coronary artery bypass grafting surgeries.
Just like many useful drugs, beta glucan has its own list of side effects. RxList prohibits the use of any type of beta glucan for over eight weeks. Decline of white blood cell count has been observed in some patients receiving beta glucan therapy, making them more prone to fungal, viral and bacterial infection. Upon receiving beta glucan injections, patients may suffer from pain at the injection site, sometimes combined with fever, headaches, chills and nausea. Back and joint pains, diarrhea and changes in blood pressure have also been reported in some cases. Beta glucan is not recommended for pregnant or lactating mothers. Certain immunosuppressant drugs like Simulect and Imuran may interact with beta glucan.
Accordingly, it is advisable to use beta glucan only under medical supervision. The drug is available in oral, injectable and topical forms. Generally, the injectable form is more likely to cause side effects than others. Nevertheless it is widely recommended by practitioners in many countries. Since it has already shown promising signs as a satisfactory remedy for several health issues, we can expect beta glucan to play a major role in medical science in the near future.