Written by Michelle Whitmer | Medically Reviewed By Tejal Parekh | Edited By Walter Pacheco | Last Update: June 11, 2024

What Are Beta Glucans?

Beta glucans are a type of soluble fiber found in the cell walls of algae, bacteria, fungi, yeast and some plants, such as oats and barley. They consist of a chain of linked glucose molecules. 

Like other soluble fibers, beta glucan serves as a prebiotic, providing a food source for beneficial gut bacteria. This supports a healthy microbiome, which may benefit immune health. 

If you have mesothelioma, consult with your health care provider before taking a beta glucan supplement to discuss the correct dosage and potential side effects. Your doctor will also advise you if there’s a risk of potential interactions with other medications you take.  

How Does Beta Glucan Work?

Beta glucans don’t attack cancer directly, but they indirectly stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells. Beta glucans are first absorbed in the small intestine and broken into smaller parts, which then enter the bloodstream and interact with bone marrow and the immune system.

Research indicates beta glucan benefits immune health because it attaches itself to certain receptors on immune cell surfaces. It also works to inhibit some harmful pathogens. 

How beta glucan can boost immunity illustration.

There is evidence that beta glucans support the immune system to fight bacterial infections and enhance the activity of natural killer cells. These are a component of the immune system that recognizes and attacks cancer cells.

While there isn’t specific research on beta glucan and mesothelioma treatments, clinical studies show that beta glucans can help white blood cells fight certain types of cancer. When taken with other cancer therapies, it may increase the number of cancer cells killed. 

Studies on Beta Glucans and Cancer

Young female scientist working at the laboratory with an electron microscope.

Numerous research studies show a relationship between beta glucans and cancer. While these aren’t specific to mesothelioma, they do show potential benefits from using beta glucan supplements along with other cancer treatments. 

Much current research involves the benefits of beta glucan and other plant compounds on gut health. For example, a study published in 2023 indicates that plant-derived substances promote healthy gut flora and perform a supportive role in cancer care. Other studies support this connection, including one released in late 2023 that examined the relationship between beta glucans and immune health in patients with colorectal cancer. 

Another systematic review of studies on fungal beta glucans showed reduced immune suppression during cancer treatment with use. However, it also found numerous studies demonstrating no benefits and cautioned that further research may be necessary to clear up these discrepancies. 

Are There Benefits of Beta Glucan for Mesothelioma Patients?

Beta glucan may benefit mesothelioma patients, supporting the immune system through improved gut health. Since many cancer treatments suppress the immune system, this is vital for maintaining overall health. 

Supplementation with beta glucan may also promote wound healing. Some research indicates it may help alleviate cancer-related skin conditions, including eczema, bedsores and radiation therapy burns. 

Current research indicates beta glucan benefits for people with cancers, including mesothelioma, may include slowed tumor growth and reduced metastasis. It also shows that beta glucans support overall heart health and help reduce high cholesterol. This fiber may be a helpful tool for addressing coexisting conditions many patients with mesothelioma experience. 

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Incorporating Beta Glucan Into Your Diet

Eating more foods that contain this type of fiber is one way to incorporate beta glucans into your diet. They appear in a range of plant-based foods, including grains and some mushrooms. People with mesothelioma can speak to a dietitian to learn more about eating a diet with supportive nutrients.

Did You Know?
Adding beta-glucan-rich foods to your diet, such as oats, barley and mushrooms, can improve gut health, lower your cholesterol levels, enhance your immune function and improve your blood sugar control.
Source: Cancer Reports

While many medical providers prefer patients to get nutrients such as beta glucans through their diet, supplements are available for those who are unable to get enough nutrients through dietary changes alone. If you’re considering taking supplements, speak with your doctor about possible beta glucan benefits, adverse drug interactions or side effects. 

It’s also important to remember that like other dietary supplements, beta glucan supplements aren’t subject to the same strict regulations as medications. Instead, the FDA classifies them as food, meaning there are fewer regulations and oversight. 

Foods Containing Beta Glucan

Many plants contain nutritionally significant levels of beta glucans. Barley and oats have the highest amount of beta glucans per serving. One cup of cooked barley provides 2.5 grams of beta glucans, while a cup of oatmeal has 2 grams of this healthy fiber.

Dietary Beta Glucan
  • Algae
  • Brewer’s and baker’s yeast
  • Grains (barley, oats, rye, sorghum and wheat)
  • Reishi, shiitake and maitake mushrooms
  • Seaweed

Incorporating beta glucan-rich foods into a regular diet is a good option for gaining its potential health benefits. Patients should discuss any major dietary changes with their nutritionist.

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Potential Side Effects of Beta Glucan

Taking a beta glucan supplement carries a risk of potentially serious side effects, including changes to blood pressure and gastrointestinal distress. Beta glucan side effects are more common with a supplement than when eating foods rich in beta glucans. Additionally, intravenous forms of beta glucan supplements may produce more severe side effects compared to oral versions.

Side Effects of Beta Glucan Supplements
  • Back and joint pain
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Diarrhea, nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive urination
  • Fever and chills
  • Skin rashes
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Beta glucan supplements have a good safety record and most people tolerate them well. Many people with mesothelioma safely take beta glucan supplements. However, they may not be safe for everyone. Serious interactions with other medications and allergic reactions are possible. Additionally, they may aggravate the gastrointestinal effects of cancer treatment.

Talk to your oncologist if you’re considering taking beta glucan supplements or other types of complementary therapy as part of your mesothelioma treatment. They can review these and other risks, advise you if it’s safe to use them and provide guidance on proper dosage.

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