Health Benefits of Barley

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine Focused on Energetics of Food

Since ancient times, humans have believed in the spiritual significance and the health benefits of barley. The benefits of taking barley supplements, according to the health food industry, cover a wide range of conditions.

One company states that their product which contains green tea and barley grass may be beneficial for those who suffer from arthritis, asthma, skin problems, obesity, anemia, constipation, impotence, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and kidney problems.

Here we look at the scientific research related to the plausible health benefits of barley grass.

Diets rich in barley, oats and other whole grains are recommended in the official 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The health benefits of barley, oats and other whole grains are believed to include a decreased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.

The FDA has approved a health claim for foods containing oats because studies have shown that consuming these kinds of foods effectively lower blood cholesterol levels. Some scientists believe that the benefits of taking barley supplements or eating foods containing barley grains are at least equivalent to, if not greater than, the benefits of oats.

The Diet & Human Performance Laboratory, a division of the US Department of Agriculture, is currently evaluating the health benefits of barley. Some of their research has been completed. Some is still on-going. It is believed that the benefits of taking barley, oats and other whole grains are related to their beta-glucan content.

Beta-glucans are found in the bran of oats and barley, and to a lesser extent in rye and wheat. They can also be found in certain varieties of mushrooms. For humans they are a source of soluble fiber, of known importance to the digestive system, but with other possible health benefits.

Currently the FDA approved health claim for oats states that the oat product consumed must provide at least 3 grams of beta-glucans per day in order to achieve the desired results of lower cholesterol levels. Scientists at the USDA lab believe that the health benefits of barley containing foods are equal to or greater than that of oats and should carry the same approved health claim.

The findings of the USDA lab have shown that study groups of men and post-menopausal women consuming 6 grams of beta-glucans per day experienced a significant reduction in total cholesterol.

In pre-menopausal women the most benefit was experienced using a diet containing 3 grams of beta-glucans per day. The benefits of taking barley supplements were not evaluated in the study. Participants were allowed to choose from prepared dishes containing barley flour or flakes.

Because previous studies have shown that an increased consumption of soluble and insoluble fiber has a stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels, the USDA lab is studying the effect of beta-glucan, which is soluble fiber, from barley on blood glucose and insulin levels. They are currently conducting a long-term study, but the initial results indicate that stabilizing blood sugar levels is one of the health benefits of barley.

The American Dietetic Association suggests that a diet containing at least 20-35 grams per day of total dietary fiber, with at least 3 grams per day of soluble fiber (beta-glucans) results in a reduced risk for heart disease and diabetes. Some studies have shown that increasing fiber in the diet may help people control their weight. Meals rich in fiber are processed more slowly and may promote a sense of fullness or satiety.

For over 20 years doctors in Japan have used beta-glucans derived from mushrooms alongside chemotherapy for cancer patients. There is an on-going trial in the United States which combines beta-glucans with other cancer drugs.

So far, the FDA has not approved any form of beta-glucans for treating cancer. The American Cancer Society does suggest that increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the diet may prevent some types of cancer. But, at this time, there is not enough evidence to list cancer prevention among the health benefits of barley.

So, of the purported health benefits of barley, we can find evidence supporting a possible role in weight loss and control, for the treatment of constipation, to help stabilize blood sugar levels and improve blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol, along with type II diabetes, is a major risk factor for heart disease.

If the evidence is correct, individuals suffering from high cholesterol, type II diabetes or obesity may experience the benefits of taking barley supplements. As a preventative, the health benefits of barley may extend to those with a family history of heart disease, cancer or type II diabetes.

The benefits of taking whole food supplements containing whole grains may be greater than the benefits of taking a barley supplement alone. Whole food supplements contain whole grains, fruits and vegetables that have been dehydrated, concentrated and encapsulated.

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