Can beta-glucan help lower cholesterol? Known as the bad cholesterol, LDL-C (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol) adheres to the interior of blood vessels, increasing the risk of blood clots and heart attacks.
Because coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death in the world, researchers at the Glycemic Index Laboratories in Toronto set out to find a treatment to reduce serum LDL-C, which in turn would lower the risk for CHD. Researchers Thomas Wolever et al. believe lifestyle modifications such as a higher intake of soluble dietary fibre are the best ways to lower CHD risk.
The main component of oats, a soluble fibre, is beta-glucan. Beta-glucans are polysaccharides that can regulate the immune system and prevent infections. It also has properties that can inhibit growth of tumours. Food items high in beta glucan include grains like barley and oats, and medicinal mushrooms like Agaricus Blazei, Coriolus Versicolor, Shiitake, Maitake, and Reishi.
Wolever et al. reported that the LDL-C lowering effect is based on the oat beta-glucan’s molecular weight and solubility. For the experiment, the researchers tested the effect of oat beta-glucan on LDL-C to see if the results would vary by ethnicity since previous studies have shown CHD risk factors and prevalence of blood lipid abnormalities may differ in various ethnic groups.
They set up a randomized, double-blind study for 366 participants that were assigned to one of the five treatment groups: oat cereal with 3 g high molecular weight, oat cereal with 4 g medium molecular weight, oat cereal with 3 g medium molecular weight, oat cereal with 4 g low molecular weight, or the control group which received wheat bran cereal.
The effect of beta-glucan on LDL cholesterol in Caucasians and non-Caucasians
After eating the beta-glucan containing cereal daily for four weeks, the researchers found that LDL-C levels responded a week or two after treatment. They also found the effect of beta-glucan treatment is the same for Caucasians and non-Caucasians.
The 3 g high molecular weight and 4 g medium molecular weight reduced LDL-C significantly in Caucasians. For non-Caucasians, the 3 g high molecular weight, 3 g medium molecular weight and 4 g medium molecular weight groups all showed significant reductions in LDL-C. No changes in LDL-C were observed for the low molecular weight groups.
Based on these results the researchers conclude that oats, high in beta-glucan, can be a beneficial and cost-effective way to lower LDL cholesterol.
Remember that medicinal mushrooms (like Agaricus Blazei, Coriolus Versicolor, Shiitake, Maitake, and Reishi), including the common white mushroom at your local grocery store, are also high in beta-glucan. They not only help reduce cholesterol, but also build the immune system.
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