The Health Benefits of Arabinoxylan

Cereal grain fiber may aid in obesity, diabetes, and cancer

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Arabinoxylan is a type of cellulose obtained from the outer shell of wheat, rye, rice, and other cereal grains. A major component of the dietary fiber in grains, arabinoxylan is said to offer a variety of health benefits, including improved digestive health and the control of diabetes. Moreover, the sugars in arabinoxylan (arabinose and xylose) are believed to have antioxidant effects, protecting cells and tissues from the ravages of free radicals.

Health Benefit

Alternative practitioners believe that arabinoxylan can aid in the treatment of numerous health conditions, either directly or indirectly. These include:

  • Asthma 
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome 
  • Constipation
  • Diabetes 
  • Heart disease 
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol 
  • Obesity 

Others contend that arabinoxylan can reduce the ill effects of chemotherapy by stimulating the immune system. There are those who even suggest that arabinoxylan can prevent cancer by protecting cellular DNA from the oxidative stress that triggers malignant growth.

Some of these claims are better supported by research than others. Here are a few studies that suggest that the benefits of arabinoxylan are more than incidental:

Gastrointestinal Health

Arabinoxylan is thought to act as a prebiotic, a form of dietary fiber that fosters the growth of probiotic bacteria. By maintaining the ideal flora in the intestines, arabinoxylan may help:

  • Improve digestion
  • Enhance the absorption of food and nutrients
  • Improve immune function
  • Protect against hostile bacteria, reducing the risk of infection

As a cellulose-based insoluble fiber, arabinoxylan can help move food through the digestive tract more rapidly, preventing constipation and reducing the risk of diverticular disease.

These benefits are evidenced in part by a 2012 study in the British Journal of Nutrition in which 63 adults provided 1,000 milligrams (mg) of arabinoxylan-enriched wheat bran daily experienced a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of constipation after just three weeks.

Diabetes

In people with diabetes, fiber—especially soluble fiber—is known to slow the absorption of sugar and improve blood glucose levels. On the flip side, insoluble fiber may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by improving glucose tolerance.

Insoluble fibers are believed to do so by creating short-chain fatty acids as they ferment in the intestines. Short-chain fatty acids are the main source of energy in the intestinal lining. By increasing the number of fatty acids, both the energy metabolism and speed by which glucose is clear from the blood are increased.

This effect is evidenced in part by a 2016 study in the European Journal of Nutrition. For this study, adults with prediabetes were fed arabinoxylan-fortified bread right before bedtime. The next morning, after eating a standard breakfast, the participants' bloods were tested and compared to their pretreatment values.

The scientists found that arabinoxylan increased insulin sensitivity in all of the study participants. Moreover, higher doses of arabinoxylan conferred to better glucose control.

The findings suggest that arabinoxylan may aid in the prevention of type 2 diabetes and help people with prediabetes avoid progression to clinical diabetes.

Obesity

Arabinoxylan's ability to increase metabolism and lower blood sugars suggest that it may be an effective weight-loss tool for people with obesity. There is growing evidence of this effect.

In a 2011 study published in PLoS One, lab mice fed a high-fat diet containing arabinoxylan experienced a decrease in weight and adipose (fat-containing) tissues compared to mice fed an unfortified diet. Arabinoxylan also appeared to lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and improve insulin sensitivity.

The scientists attributed this effect to the prebiotic properties of arabinoxylan, which not only increased the output of fatty acids but decreased the size of adipocytes (fat-containing cells). Further research is needed to determine whether the same effect would occur in humans.

Cancer

There is growing evidence that arabinoxylan may aid in the treatment of certain cancers. As far-fetched as the idea may seem, the concept is really not all that new. Scientists have long since established a strong association between high fiber intake and the reduced risk of colon cancer.

Other researchers believe that arabinoxylan has anti-tumor properties that may not be able to kill cancer but may increase the sensitivity of a tumor so that it is more receptive to chemotherapy drugs.

The hypothesis was tested in a 2014 study in Anticancer Research in which breast cancer cells exposed to rice-derived arabinoxylan were 100-fold more responsive to the chemotherapy drug Abraxane (paclitaxel). This included advanced metastatic cancer cell lines.

The preliminary study was considered important in that it could one day allow for lower doses of Abraxane and, with it, a reduced risk of side effects.

An earlier study published in Anticancer Research reported that arabinoxylan supplements improved outcomes in adults treated for liver cancer. The three-year trial, involving 68 adults with stage 1 and stage 3 hepatocellular carcinoma, found that arabinoxylan given daily in combination with standard cancer therapies increased survival times.

According to the research, the two-year survival rate in people given arabinoxylan was 35% compared to 7% for those provided a placebo. In addition, there was a significantly lower risk of cancer recurrence (32% versus 47%).

While it is too early to suggest that arabinoxylan is an effective adjunctive therapy for cancer, the early results are promising and warrant further investigation.

Possible Side Effects

As a dietary fiber supplement, arabinoxylan is generally considered safe if taken as directed. Common side effects include flatulence, bloating, and mild cramping. If overused, arabinoxylan may cause loose or runny stools.

Because arabinoxylan can affect blood sugar, it should be used with caution in people on diabetes medications. The combined use may cause hypoglycemia (a potentially hazardous drop in blood sugar).

It is important to note that the safety of arabinoxylan in children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers has not been established. For safety sake, speak with your doctor if you are using or intend to use arabinoxylan.

Dosage and Preparation

Arabinoxylan supplements can be purchased online or in certain drugstores, natural food shops, and stores specializing in nutritional supplements. They are often sold in capsule form; others come as a powder in single-serving packs (which you can mix with water, juice, or yogurt).

The majority of arabinoxylan supplements are derived from rice bran. If you are gluten-intolerant, take extra care to avoid wheat-derived arabinoxylan supplements.

Dietary supplements are not strictly regulated in the United States. To ensure the utmost quality, opt for brands that have been tested by an independent certifying body like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab.

You should also check the product label to see if there are any other active or inactive ingredients. Unless the manufacturer lists the exact amount of ingredients on the label, you really have no idea how much or little arabinoxylan you are taking.

In the end, there are no guidelines for the appropriate use of arabinoxylan in any form. Although manufacturers will recommend up to 3,000 mg per day, there is no evidence that higher doses are more effective than lower ones. (If anything, higher doses place you at an increased risk of side effects.)

To avoid gas, bloating, and diarrhea, always start with a smaller dose (250 to 500 mg), increasing gradually week-on-week. Most importantly, never exceed the recommended dose on the product label.

Other Questions

How much arabinoxylan can you get from food?

Arabinoxylan is found in all major cereal grains, including rye, wheat, barley, oats, sorghum, maize, millet, psyllium, flaxseed, pangola grass, bamboo shoot, and ryegrass. The highest content is found in rye, followed by wheat, barley, oats, rice, and sorghum.

In terms of equivalency, 1 gram of wheat bran offers between 12 and 18 mg of arabinoxylan. If you were to aim for a daily intake of 1,000 mg—a reasonable amount of added fiber for most adults—you would need to consume between 71 and 83 grams of bran (roughly 1¼ and 1½ cups) per day.

Generally speaking, it is better to get your daily fiber from food sources rather than supplements. If you fall short of your recommended intake, fiber supplements are a reasonable and effective option.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Broekaert WF, Courtin CM, Verbeke K, et al. Prebiotic and Other Health-Related Effects of Cereal-Derived Arabinoxylans, Arabinoxylan-Oligosaccharides, and XylooligosaccharidesCrit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Feb;51(2):178-94. doi:10.1080/10408390903044768.

  2. Izydorczyk MS. (2009) 23.2 Occurrence and content of arabinoxylans. Handbook of Hydrocolloids (2nd Ed). Phillips EG, Williams PA (eds). Cambridge, England: Woodhead Publishing Limited.

  3. Saeed F, Pasha I, Anjum FM, et al. Arabinoxylan and Arabinogalactan Content in Different Spring Wheats. Int J Food Prop. 2013 Jun;17(4). doi:10.1080/10942912.2012.654568.

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