Recently β-glucans have attracted more and more attention in the literature and medical community because of their positive health effects. In particular, they have been shown to have a significant impact on cholesterol levels, blood sugar and glucose management in general, as well as on the immune system.
In this article we will explore the topic, first of all seeing what β-glucans are and where they are. We will then understand what are the benefits to be able to exploit them in favour of our well-being.
What they are and where they are
The β-glucans are linear polycassarids. They consist of glucose molecules that are joined by glycosidic bonds. They are the major components of soluble dietary fiber, as well as the main responsible for all the beneficial effects of the latter. In summary, when the emphasis is placed on the importance of food fiber, the main arguments derive precisely from the high content of β-glucans and the benefits that they generate on our body.
The main sources of β-glucans are dietary fibres, mainly contained in:
The first two foods, boats and barley, should therefore be our main choice in carbohydrates, if the desire is to have an adequate intake of β-glucans, with the aim of controlling cholesterol and blood sugar.
The other sources of β-glucans listed above are, however, an extraordinary opportunity and we may dedicate a specific article to them.
Which are the benefits
The first benefit of a proper intake of β-glucans is to improve cholesterol levels. In particular, an increase in HDL cholesterol (“good”) and a decrease in LDL (“bad”).
The positive impact of intake of β-glucans also affects blood sugar. When taken together with other sources of sugars and carbohydrates, β-glucans slow down the glycemic impact, helping to stabilize blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity in the long time.
We also want to stress the latest scientific research, as the immunostimulating effects of β-glucans are being studied and tested, especially if they are taken by supplementation. The latter benefit of β-glucans, on which scientific research is still being carried out, leads them to be compared to potential drugs. The most recent trails (more than a hundred) suggest a shift of this supplement out of the market OTC (over the counter, supplements without a prescription).
β-glucans and immune system
To better understand the function of β-glucans on our organism it is essential to focus on the definition of "immunostimulants" and "immunomodulators".
Immunomodulators are molecules able to modulate, in fact, the response of our immune system, in positive (and therefore be used in the medical field) or in negative.
Immunostimulants, as in the case of β-glucans, define that part of immunomodulators that induce positive responses on the immune system. The immunostimulants we know are many and easily identifiable in nature (curcumin, flavonoids, resveratrol, ginseng etc.), always very used in oriental medicine.
Since the 1940s, research has begun on the role of β-glucans (in particular β-13-glucans) and it has been found, in numerous studies, that they are able to activate innate reactions typically stimulated by pathogenic molecules (activation of neutrophils, monocytes, etc.).
Specifically, these substances increase immune defense by encouraging the action of macrophages and NK cells (natural killer cells, natural killer cells). This is due to the specific interaction with different receptors present in cell membranes such as CR3, (Cd11b/CD18) present in leukocytes, monocytes and neutrophils, lactosilceramide or scavenger receptor (SR) or "scavenger receptors".
The breadth of this response is very interesting and it is putting these polysaccharides in the spotlight by suggesting their use in the pathological field (Lyme disease, cancer, obesity, colitis...).
Conclusions and practical advice
Certainly the subject deserves much more investigation but we can already draw several practical ideas.
A first practical point is to recommend, except for personal and subjective sensitivity, the use of oats as a carbohydrate source. For breakfast or as a snack, a warm porridge can be an excellent solution for the winter months. For the summer we can let it rest in the fridge for the night to have a fresh and nutritious breakfast.
In addition, barley as a cereal can sometimes replace pasta or rice and is an excellent solution, even particularly tasty if eaten fresh with tomatoes and basil, in the summer months, or in the soup mode in the winter months.The topic β-glucani deserves further study in subsequent articles, because even the speech "algae" represents an excellent integration in our diet.
The mantra that always comes back is that a varied and balanced diet is always the recommended solution for a well-being and a quality of life that we all want.