Beta-Glucan and Cholesterol

Cardiovascular disease is one of Australia’s largest health problems and the leading cause of death in Australia, killing one Australian every 12 minutes. It directly affects one in six Australians (approx. 3.7 million people) and prevents 1.4 million people from living a full life because of resulting disabilities.

Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, physical inactivity, low fruit and vegetable intake, alcohol and smoking. Nine in 10 adult Australians have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease and one in four (25%) have three or more risk factors.

Natural treatments include dietary changes, mineral and herbal supplements and high dose antioxidants. Lifestyle changes to improve fitness, reduce stress and stimulate circulation are helpful including exercise and relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga.

In recent years, there has been more and more focus on testing cholesterol levels, with high levels being associated with high risk. In 2011and 2012, 1.5 million Australians reported having high cholesterol levels, so this number does not include those that may have high levels but have not been tested.

When it comes to cholesterol, what really matters is the ratio of LDL-cholesterol to HDL-cholesterol. LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein and is the so-called ‘bad cholesterol’ and HDL (High Density Lipoprotein ) is the so-called ‘good cholesterol.’

BETA-GLUCAN EFFECTS ON CHOLESTEROL

Beta-glucan is a concentrated soluble fibre from the oat grain. When ingested, beta-glucan forms a gel inside the stomach and small intestine. This gel entraps bile acids reducing their absorption. As cholesterol is an essential component of biles acids, when levels drop, the body has to use more cholesterol to form more bile acids, resulting in a lower LDL cholesterol level and a lower total cholesterol level.

To summarise this process: beta-glucan effectively lowers cholesterol by binding to it in the gut.

So, can someone get the same effect by eating just plain oats? Oats contain around 3% beta-glucan, so supplementing with a concentrated form of beta-glucan is far more efficient.
The beta-glucan needs to have good solubility and a high molecular weight, important for gel formation to mop up excess cholesterol.

Scientific research into the effects of beta-glucan show an overall lowering of “bad” LDL cholesterol by around 10%, and the cholesterol lowering effect of beta-glucan has been demonstrated by a large number of clinical studies over a number of years.

Results of one clinical trial concluded that the cholesterol lowering effects “indicate that concentrated beta-glucan may be beneficial to high cardiovascular disease risk populations.”