For the most part, dietary fiber is pretty bland stuff. It’s indigestible, not very reactive and, when dissolved in water, it's known and prized for its ability to thicken gels without interfering with the chemistry of foods, medication or skin care products.
An exception to its ordinarily inert nature is my all-time favorite source of fiber, a fascinating biochemical called Beta Glucan (BG). Beta Glucan is produced in copious amounts by all plants, bacteria, yeast and fungi. Unlike other forms of fiber, Beta Glucan (a type of cellulose and one of the most common substances in the natural world) reacts quite readily with biological cells. In particular, Beta Glucan reacts with the “macrophages”, one of the most prominent players of the human immune system. In fact, Beta Glucan is, according to Dr. Arcie Mizelle, possibly “the most ubiquitous macrophage activator in nature”.
Technically speaking, Beta Glucan is a long chain of glucose molecules. Pieces of glucose molecules (also known as blood sugar) can transform from a source of quick energy, to an incredibly beneficial health tool, when they’re linked up into a long chain called a “glucan”. (They can also be a source of trouble when the body loses its ability to handle glucose molecules.) Once the little nuggets of glucose are strung together into a biochemical necklace, they can no longer be used for energy or stored as fat. Rather this new “glucan” structure can be arranged into a shape (scientists have dubbed “beta”) that becomes one of nature’s most important medicines in helping strengthen the body’s immune system, lower blood fats and lower cholesterol. It also supports skin health, anti-aging and wound healing.
Perhaps the most dramatic and well known properties of Beta Glucan involve its anti-cancer properties. The medicinal properties long attributed to mushrooms are thought to be related to their Beta Glucan content. In Asia, both Beta Glucan and the mushrooms it is derived from are used as a mainstream cancer treatment. According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, several studies have shown “…significant effect on tumor growth in animal models”. In addition to its stimulating effect on macrophages, according to Blaylock, Beta Glucan also activates Natural Killer cells, a class of cells that are key components of the body’s anti-cancer weaponry. Natural Killer cells have been shown to control the growth of tumors locally as well as preventing their metastasis (spreading). What’s more, according to a 2003 article published in the journal “Cancer Research”, Beta Glucan acts as adjuvant or secondary treatment that may significantly enhance the therapeutic effects of chemotherapy drugs.
Beta Glucan isn’t just for our insides. I’ve been using Beta Glucan in my skin health formulations for many years. I first read about its anti-aging properties when I was researching active ingredients for the Blistex Corporation. Back then, we really didn’t have an appreciation for the properties of this substance. Somewhere around 1982, a company out of Texas discovered that Beta Glucan derived from yeast could be used to stimulate the healing of wounds and, in short order, they patented it for skin care. I remember when I started my skin care company, I had to jump through all kinds of hoops to get this company to allow me to even include Beta Glucan in my products, let alone market it to the public. Over the course of the next few years other sources became available, and I immediately started adding it to my recipes. To this day, I consider topical Beta Glucan to be one of the most important anti-aging ingredients in the skin care world.
When applied topically in products, Beta Glucan skin health benefits are comprehensive. It traps moisture and can soften hard, dry skin. It can support the integrity of the stratum corneum, allowing it to maintain its barrier function after damage by chemicals, soaps and detergents. It provides protection from the sun and other environmental assaults. Also, over the past couple of decades, researchers have demonstrated that Beta Glucan has significant anti-wrinkle benefits. Its anti-oxidant and anti-irritation properties make it ideal for soothing rashy eczematous skin. Beta Glucan can also slow down the signs of cutaneous aging, including hyperpigmentation, thinning and breakdown of collagen. Other skin aging symptoms, such as darkening, sunburn and collagen degradation, can also be reduced by direct application of Beta Glucan.
One of the most exciting areas of Beta Glucan research is focusing on this remarkable fiber's ability to encourage and enhance the healing of wounds and traumatized tissue. In a study that was done on skin injured by chronic use of steroid creams “…Beta Glucan enhanced percentage wound contraction, improved epithelialization time, tensile strength, and elevated hydroxyproline level…(indicating)…that systemic and topical Beta Glucan improve wound healing that has been impaired by corticosteroids…” Other researchers have highlighted Beta Glucan's ability to stimulate the growth and connective tissue in burn victims. A paper in the journal American Surgeon discussed the use of Beta Glucan to stimulate the production of collagen in post-surgical healing.
If you’re looking for a way to lower blood fats, you might want to start using some Beta Glucan. A March 2007 article in The American Journal of Therapeutics found that six grams of beta-glucan from oats, added to a heart friendly protocol and moderate physical activity, improved lipid profiles and caused a decrease in weight, reducing the risk of cardiovascular events in overweight male individuals. Other studies have shown that Beta Glucan fiber can act like nontoxic statin drug. According to the journal Nutrition Reviews, “…significant scientific agreement continues to support a relationship between oat β-glucan and blood cholesterol levels”. And, a July 1994 article from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that Beta Glucan “significantly reduced the total blood LDL cholesterol in men with elevated levels…without changing HDL”. Even the United States government supports the numerous anti-cholesterol findings. In 1997 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a health claim for β-glucan soluble fiber from oats for reducing plasma cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.
Beta Glucan supplements are readily available in most health food stores and taking a gram or so daily is a great way to leverage Beta Glucan’s many health benefits. If you’d rather get your Beta Glucan from foods, then make sure you’re indulging in barley, wheat, dates, seaweed and nutritional yeast. Oats are a particularly good source of Beta Glucan. For do-it-yourself people who want to leverage this multifunctional molecule’s topical benefits, you can make a Beta Glucan rich anti-aging mask by adding some oats, or oatmeal in warm water, to some nutritional yeast and a bit of honey or a raw egg. Then apply the mixture directly to your face. If you mix in some Beta Glucan powder from an open capsule, you’ll get even more skin health benefits. You can also add the powder to your own creams and lotions to enhance their moisturization, anti-aging and sun-protecting benefits.
Did you know…
- Beta Glucan may be an important supplement for athletes, body builders and weekend warriors. It protects muscle cells, speeds healing, shortens recovery time, helps repair damage and may be able to enhance the development of new muscle tissue.
- Good gut bacteria love Beta Glucan! They can use it as source of nourishment and transmute it into biochemicals that can support intestinal function and improve overall health and metabolism.