Effect of β-glucan molecular weight and viscosity on the mechanism of cholesterol lowering in humans
The cholesterol-lowering effect of mixed linkage (1→3) (1→4)-β-D-glucans (β-glucan) from barley has been documented, yet the underlying mechanism responsible for this action and factors influencing it, such as physicochemical properties of β-glucan and genetic background of an individual, remain unclear.As a component of dietary fibre, β-glucan also has the potential to shift the gut microbial community, however, whether alterations in the gut microbiota are associated with the physiological effects of β-glucan have yet to be determined. This study was designed to assess the effects of β-glucan molecular weight (MW) and dose on loweringserum cholesterol levels and to elucidate its mechanism of action in human subjects. Additionally, this study examined gene-diet interactions as well as changes in the gut microbiota profile following consumption of barley foods. In a controlled four phase crossover trial, mildly hypercholesterolemic but otherwise healthy subjects (n =30) were randomly assigned to receive breakfasts containing 3g high MW (HMW), 5g low molecular weight (LMW), 3g LMW barley β-glucan or a control diet with wheat and rice (WR control), each for 5 weeks. The washout period between the phases was 4 weeks. The consumption of 3g/d HMW diet lowered total cholesterol (TC) compared with WR control diet (P =0.0046), but not the LMW diet at either 3g/d or 5g/d. Individuals with the SNP rs3808607-G allele of CYP7A1 had greater TC reduction in response to 3g/d HMW β-glucan diet compared to the individuals carrying homozygous TT alleles (P<0.01). Cholesterol absorption and synthesis were not changed, but bile acid synthesis increased by 3g/d HMW diet compared to the control. Consuming 3g HMW/d β-glucan altered gut microbiota at the phylum and genus levels and the impacted microbial members was correlated with favorable shifts of cardiovascular disease risk factors. In conclusion, physicochemical properties of β-glucan play critical roles in the cholesterol-lowering effect and gut microbiota alteration ability of β-glucan. The results suggest the increasing bile acid synthesis rather than inhibiting cholesterol absorption and synthesis is the mechanism responsible for the cholesterol reducing property of β-glucan.The altered microbiota profile by HMW β-glucan is associated with its physiological effect.