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Barley

Barley is a cereal grain high in soluble fiber. Barley comes in many forms, including:

  • Sprouted barley
  • Pearl barley
  • Barley oil extract
  • Barley flour

Why do people take barley?

People take barley to try to lower:

  • Cholesterol
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar

People also take barley to try to promote weight loss or help prevent some types of cancer.

Barley is probably effective at reducing total cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol. It may also lower triglycerides and increase HDL "good" cholesterol levels, but the research has been mixed. How much it lowers cholesterol may depend upon how many grams you eat. The effect may also be less when barley is highly processed.

Barley may also lower blood pressure in people who do not have high blood pressure but do have high cholesterol.

Fiber in foods, such as in barley, may help prevent stomach cancer or prolong life in those with the disease. But it doesn't seem to protect against colorectal cancer.

Researchers have not yet proven barley's effectiveness for other purposes. But barley may help control appetite by stabilizing blood sugar and by slowing the emptying of your stomach.

Optimal doses of barley as a food or supplement have not been established for any condition.

However, to try to lower cholesterol, people have used one of these daily doses:

  • 3 grams of barley oil extract
  • 30 grams of barley bran flour
  • 0.4 to 6 grams of soluble barley fiber
  • 3 to 12 grams of pearled barley, or barley flour, flakes, or powder

To try to lower blood pressure, people with moderately high cholesterol have taken 3 to 6 grams daily of:

  • Barley flakes
  • Barley flour
  • Pearled barley

At the same time, they eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.

Can you get barley naturally from foods?

Barley is a grain you can eat as a food. It provides a source of:

  • Fiber
  • Vitamins
  • Carbohydrates
  • Proteins
  • Fatty oils

It is also used as an ingredient in making beer.

What are the risks of taking barley?

Side effects. Some sensitive people can develop anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) from beer made with barley.

Risks. Barley is generally safe in the amounts found in foods, even if you are pregnant. But do not eat large amounts of cooked barley sprouts while pregnant. Due to the risk of bacteria that can cause illness, pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems should avoid eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts of any kind, the FDA says. And avoid taking barley supplements when breastfeeding, just to be safe.

Also avoid eating barley or taking barley supplements if you have celiac disease. The gluten in barley may cause problems.

Stop taking barley at least 2 weeks before surgery, since it could affect blood sugar control.

Interactions. There is a chance that barley could lower blood sugar too much if combined with herbs, supplements, or drugs that do the same thing. Other supplements that may lower blood sugar levels include:

  • Bitter melon
  • Ginger
  • Willow bark

The fiber in barley also might make it harder for your body to absorb certain drugs.

The FDA allows food products containing three-fourths of a gram of soluble fiber from barley per serving to make this claim: It may reduce the risk of heart disease when used as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Talk with your doctor before taking any supplements, even if they're natural. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with medications or foods. He or she can let you know if the supplement might increase your risks.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 15, 2014

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