Beta glucan -- also known as beta glucans, beta glycans, beta 1,3 and lentinan -- is a polysaccharide compound derived from plant sources. Beta glucan is sold in both extract and powdered form as a dietary supplement that manufacturers claim can enhance your health and prevent the development of certain diseases. Beta glucan powder and beta glucan extract share the same properties and, while some research indicates that supplementation with either yields health benefits, both also may cause side effects. Speak to your doctor before using beta glucan powder or beta glucan extract for any medical condition.
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Origin and Function
Both beta glucan powder and beta glucan extract -- beta glucan in a liquid form -- are derived from the cell walls of plants such as oats, wheat and barley; from baker's yeast; and from certain species of fungi, such as mushrooms. Beta glucan may inhibit cholesterol absorption in the digestive system and stimulate the production of immune system enzymes and proteins in both animals and humans.
Beta glucan supplements are used by alternative medicine practitioners as a treatment for high blood cholesterol and as a way to stimulate the immune system. Beta glucan powder, taken in the form of capsules or tablets, is most often used by people trying to lower their cholesterol levels, while injections of beta glucan extract has been used as an experimental treatment in patients suffering from immune-suppressing conditions such as cancer, HIV, AIDS and during recovery from surgery or physical trauma.
Beta glucan powder supplementation is not connected to any known side effects, however further study is needed. Beta glucan extract injections may cause vomiting, diarrhea, extreme fluctuations in blood pressure, headache, rashes, fever, chills, joint pain and excessive urine production. Do not use any form of beta glucan supplement if you are pregnant or nursing. If you use beta glucan capsules, do not take more than 15 g daily. Beta glucan use should also be avoided by people taking immunosuppressant drugs such as cyclosporine, prednisone, corticosteroids, azathioprine or mycophenolate since beta glucan may interfere with these drugs' function.
Dietary supplements like beta glucan extract and beta glucan powder are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. This means that the claims made by supplement manufacturers are not supported by unbiased, clinically tested scientific evidence, and that the FDA does not monitor the products' safety, effectiveness or purity. Speak to your doctor first if you are interested in using beta glucan supplements.