Barley was a functional ingredient of the ancient Babylonian and Egyptian civilizations and in many parts of Europe and Africa. Since ancient times, barley has been known for its health-promoting benefits through the presence of flavonoids, vitamins, amino acids, phenolic acids, fiber, and other functional ingredients that prevent and treat chronic disease. Here are ten scientific studies that discuss the health-promoting benefits of barley as an active constituent of a regular diet.
1. Barley Fights Diabetes
Barley contains all essential ingredients that help resolve Type 2 diabetes (T2D). Diabetes is a complex chronic condition that manifests in increased glucose levels in the blood, defects in the metabolism due to the action of insulin, or defects in the secretion of insulin. Individuals diagnosed with diabetes may have one or more defects in the mechanism of insulin. Diabetes is associated with many risk factors related to lifestyle, obesity, genetics, and race.
Idehen and his team demonstrated that consuming whole grain reduces the risk factors linked to diabetes. They stressed the importance of barley based on its soluble fiber, beta-glucan, short-chain fatty acids, and phytochemicals. These constituents contribute to improving the glycemic response. On a biochemical level, the anti-diabetes effects are not fully understood and may involve many pathways.
2. Barley is Anti-Ageing
Barley is known to slow down the aging process by collecting free radicals in the human system. This is backed by scientific evidence. One experiment in this context was performed by Qingming and his team, who tested barley malt extract and found that the section had high antioxidant properties. Barley malt extract also protects against oxidative damage. Therefore, the effects of decreasing the activity of antioxidant enzymes and promoting an anti-aging development were apparent as proven health benefits of barley. Barley also contains selenium and Vitamin E, which promote antioxidant effects and slow down aging.
3. Barley Boosts Immunity
Barley boosts immune health, helping the body fight infection and chronic disease. The immune-modulating effects of barley were apparent when scientists tested barley extract on immune-suppressed mice to understand the molecular basis of the process. Scientists observed a notable increase in cells of the bone marrow and peripheral white blood cells. They also observed increased levels of chemical messengers linked to immune function and activation of macrophages. All these processes indicated a significant improvement in immune modulation.
Beta-glucan in barley is a practical element that fights and treats wounds and burns by activating the cutaneous cells of the immune system. Experiments demonstrated that wounds healed faster through the action of macrophages, granulation of tissues, deposition of collagen, and migration of fibroblasts. All these mechanisms assisted in the closure and healing of wounds.
4. Barley Promotes Cardiovascular Health
Beta-glucan reduces total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and it can also prevent visceral fat and reduce overall obesity. The action of beta-glucan and other functional ingredients such as lignans, polyphenols, folate, tools, and phytosterols have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and participate in the promotion of cardiovascular health.
Barley can reduce cholesterol levels in the plasma when beta-glucan and soluble fiber bind to the bile acids present in the intestines and remove them from the body. The soluble fiber absorbed by the body decreases cholesterol synthesis by the liver and cleanses blood vessels. Barley contains niacin, which reduces the levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, and raises HDL levels.
5. Barley Addresses Common Bowel Problems
Insoluble fiber present in barley leads to the formation of bulk in the intestines and promotes satiety. It cleans the colon of harmful bacteria, relieves constipation, and reduces the occurrence of colon cancer. Beta-glucan in barley also affects energy metabolism due to its positive effects on suppressing appetite and improving insulin sensitivity.
This is achieved by secretion of gut hormone and the production of gut microbial metabolite short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) from the beta-glucan in barley. In this way, barley improves metabolism and prevents metabolic disorders.
6. Barley Fights Depression
A study exploring the effects of barley on depression indicated that depression scores decreased in participants who consumed barley broth as an intervention. Several experiments conducted on animal models confirm the anti-depressive results of barley: antidepressant effects of young green leaves of barley, the antidepressant effect of barley grain in the form of preventing psychiatric and emotional disorders, and the positive effects of antioxidants in barley decoction on learning, depression, and memory. Therefore, barley is an effective antidote for mental health conditions like depression.
7. Barley Promotes Bone Health
Barley contains essential elements such as copper, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc that promote bone health by improving its strength and structure. Barley grass also has high levels of calcium, which is essential to the health of bones. It can even reverse the effects of osteoporosis. Calcium and phosphorus in barley grass have beneficial effects on dental health.
The bone-health-promoting benefits of barley were apparent as early as the era of Roman gladiators, who used the grain as part of their training diet. Barley contains several ingredients that promote bone health: manganese for the synthesis of cartilage and connective tissue in bones, copper for cross-linking elastin, and collagen to provide flexibility of the joints, blood vessels, and bones, selenium which is an antioxidant; and phosphorous, which is essential for the bone matrix.
8. Barley Promotes Neuronal Health
Scientists have found that barley grass contains minerals, vitamins, and nervous system modulators that affect nerve receptors, specifically glutamatergic, GABAergic, and cholinergic receptors, that may prevent the pathogenesis of depression. They also reduce and avoid dementia and epilepsy, and other stress-related disorders.
Barley bran has greater efficiency in GABA production when compared to wheat bran and can reduce oxidative damage. Barley grass contains twenty amino acids essential for cell regeneration, cell building, and energy production.
9. Barley Fights Cancer
Essential cancer-fighting components in barley include phytosterols, lignans, beta-glucan, arabinoxylan, phenolics, and resistant starch, which prevent cancer through their antioxidative effects and modulation of the immune system. Some constituents of barley also fight inflammation and stop the proliferation of cancer cells.
Woo and their team found that the extract of barley grass can prevent several types of cancer by inhibiting cancer cell growth, mediating apoptosis, and increasing intracellular levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Several other studies recorded evidence on the anti-cancer role of barley, such as the one by Czerwonka and colleagues, who identified that barley extract inhibited the proliferation of cancer cells in colon carcinoma, confirming the “chemopreventive potential of young barley.”
10. Barley Treats Obesity
The beta-glucan, fiber, polyphenols, and other constituents present in the barley fight against obesity. Evidence from a study carried out by Aoe and team indicated that increasing the intake of barley beta-glucan can lead to a significant reduction in visceral fat of obese individuals. Another study, which focused on the consumption of whole barley, explored how gut microbiota might contribute to obesity disorders.
Their experiment revealed that whole barley prevented hypercholesterolemia and obesity by reducing the synthesis of cholesterol. Scientists found that whole barley could prevent dyslipidemia and obesity through mechanisms that involved the gut microbiota and other microbiota independent mechanisms.
Therefore, scientists have indicated the use of different parts of barley in disease prevention: barley leaves containing phenolic compounds help with redox regulation to maintain cellular homeostasis. Barley leaves also serve as a laxative and inhibit colon cancer.
Barley acts as an antioxidant and prevents lipid build-up and cardiovascular disease, insoluble fiber reduces postprandial glucose, and barely prevents many lifestyle diseases. Therefore, barley has comprehensive effects on overall health and disease prevention and treatment. Incorporating barley into the mainstream diet contains several health benefits.