Lower Cholesterol: Eat More Barley
Adding barley to a healthful diet may lower adults’ cholesterol levels, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2004;80:1185–93). The findings of the new study suggest that making a minor change to the diet could significantly reduce heart attack and stroke risk.
In the new study, 25 adults with elevated total cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) were placed on controlled diets designed to maintain their weight and to comply with the National Cholesterol Education Program Step 1 Diet, which is moderately low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. After 19 weeks on the controlled diet, participants supplemented with barley products containing low (0 grams), medium (3 grams), or high (6 grams) amounts of beta-glucan (a type of fiber) per day, although the total amount of fiber was the same with each diet. The type and amount of barley was adjusted with each diet regimen to achieve the differing amounts of beta-glucan. Each treatment diet was followed for five weeks. Total cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides were measured before the controlled diet and then weekly during each treatment phase.
Compared with pretreatment levels, total cholesterol was respectively reduced by 4%, 9%, and 10% after consuming the low-, medium-, and high-beta-glucan diets. The most significant decrease in cholesterol was observed after the fourth week of each treatment period, suggesting it may take several weeks of supplementing with barley products to see this effect. The high-beta-glucan diet led to a 17% decrease in LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol also went down during the other treatment diets, but not to the same extent. A small but significant decrease was seen in HDL cholesterol after each treatment phase; however, LDL cholesterol dropped by a greater percentage, suggesting an overall improvement in heart disease risk. No significant change in triglycerides was observed after any of the treatment periods.
Dietary fiber is a food component that does not break down in the stomach or intestines and therefore does not get absorbed into the body; soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with liquid, helping to produce softer stool. One study showed that for every 1 gram of soluble fiber consumed per day, total and LDL cholesterol decreased by 1.55 mg/dl. This means that consuming a diet high in soluble fiber can have a clinically important effect on serum cholesterol levels. However, most Americans do not consume adequate amounts of fiber and do not meet the daily requirement of 25 grams per day of total fiber in which about one-third is in the form of soluble fiber. Eating more foods high in soluble fiber or taking fiber supplements (such as psyllium) may eliminate the need for cholesterol-lowering medications in those with mild to moderate hypercholesterolemia and could reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
Good sources of soluble fiber include barley, oatmeal, oat bran, beans, psyllium, and some fruits, such as prunes, grapefruit, apples, and pears.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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