Eating barley, or foods containing barley, can significantly reduce levels of 'bad' cholesterol. [Photo: Bigstock]

Eat more barley to help lower cholesterol

28 June, 2016

Natural Health News — Eating barley or foods containing barley significantly reduces levels of two types of “bad cholesterol” associated with cardiovascular risk, a major review has found.

Barley reduced both low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and non-high-density lipoprotein, or non-HDL, by 7%.

The review also indicated that barley had similar cholesterol-lowering effects as oats, which is often the go-to grain for health benefits.

The Canadian research review, published in The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, included 14 studies on clinical trials conducted in seven countries.

What you need to know

» Barley is a traditional grain with multiple health benefits.

» It is underused in modern human diets with only 2% of the total barley harvest going to people – the rest is fed to livestock

» This major international review shows that the beta-glucan fibre in barley is very effective at reducing total ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.

It is the first study to look at the effects of barley and barley products on both LDL and non-HDL cholesterol in addition to apolipoprotein B, or apoB, a lipoprotein that carries bad cholesterol through the blood. Measuring non-HDL and apoB provides a more accurate assessment for cardiovascular risk, as they account for the total ‘bad cholesterol’ found in the blood.

“The findings are most important for populations at high risk for cardiovascular disease, such as type-2 diabetics, who have normal levels of LDL cholesterol, but elevated levels of non-HDL or apo B,” said Dr. Vladimir Vuksan, research scientist and lead author of the review.

“Barley has a lowering effect on the total bad cholesterol in these high-risk individuals, but can also benefit people without high cholesterol.”

An underused grain

High cholesterol and diabetes are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke, historically treated with medications. However, Dr. Vuksan’s research and work focuses on how dietary and lifestyle changes can reduce these risk factors.

“Barley’s positive effect on lowering cholesterol is well-documented and has been included in the Canadian strategy for reducing cardiovascular risk,” said Dr. Vuksan.

“Health Canada, the FDA and several health authorities worldwide have already approved health claims that barley lowers LDL cholesterol, but this is the first review showing the effects on other harmful lipids.”

Despite its known health benefits barley is not as well-established as some other health-recommended foods, such as oats. Barley consumption by humans has fallen by 35% in the last 10 years.

Human consumption accounts for only 2% of the crop yield, with livestock making up the other 98%. “After looking at the evidence, we can also say that barley is comparably effective as oats in reducing overall risk of cardiovascular disease” said Dr. Vuksan.

Other benefits too

Earlier this year a study from Lund University in Sweden found that barley can rapidly improve people’s health by reducing blood sugar levels and the risk for diabetes.

The researchers found that the participants’ metabolism improved for up to 14 hours, with additional benefits such as decreases in blood sugar and insulin levels, increases in insulin sensitivity and improved appetite control. The effects arise when the special mixture of dietary fibres in barley kernel reaches the gut, stimulating the increase of good bacteria and the release of important hormones.

Barley is a rich source of beta-glucan (β-glucan), a viscous soluble fibre which has been shown to have similar cholesterol lowering properties to oats.

In fact, barley is higher in fibre, has twice the protein and almost half the calories of oats, which are important considerations for those with weight or dietary concerns.

Barley can be enjoyed in a variety of ways and can be incorporated into existing recipes, using it as a substitute for rice (it makes an excellent risotto) or even on its own just like oatmeal.