An Inside View of Barley Beta Glucan

| Feb 5, 2012

Barley has more beta glucan fiber than any other grain, and it has repeatedly established positive clinical results with regard to diabetes control. It not only boosts immune function by supporting macrophages and neutrophils, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and helps control obesity, but also attenuates postprandial glucose levels, improves insulin sensitivity, and promotes a feeling of satiety.

A Canadian research article points out that beta glucan fiber creates highly viscous solutions in the upper digestive tract, fermentation in the colon, and subsequent prebiotic effects by selective metabolism in the gastrointestinal tract. This biochemical cascade results in laxation, significant improvements in both serum lipid levels and postprandial glycemia, and increased satiety.

Researchers argue that the dosage, food form, interaction with satiety, and molecular weight of beta glucan determine the way in which glycemia is regulated in patients with diabetes. For example, a study showed that when individuals with abnormal cholesterol levels ingested five grams per day of beta glucan in beverage form, their glucose and insulin responses improved significantly after five weeks. On the other hand, incorporation of beta glucan in pasta did not significantly reduce postprandial glucose levels.

Further, when researchers from a Swiss study compared a continental breakfast to three other beta-glucan-enriched breakfasts in differing dosages, levels of plasma glucose responded inversely to the amount of beta glucan in the breakfast.

A recent study reinforces the dose-related effect of soluble beta glucan fiber in favorably affecting glucose metabolism. The research confirmed the beneficial effects of a standardized dose of barley beta glucan in beverage form. It established a recommended dosage and time period that might improve insulin sensitivity in individuals who are hyperglycemic but have not been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus.

Global research and review papers consistently support the efficacy of barley beta glucan as a first-line intervention right from the prediabetes state. The challenge lies in incorporating beta glucan fiber into processed foods to increase intake.

A rule by the FDA acclaiming the beneficial effects of barley in reducing coronary heart disease was passed in 2006. Ever since, barley beta glucan has been incorporated into breakfast cereals, baked products, pasta, beverages, salad dressings, and a variety of food forms. Taste, texture, and shelf life, however, are basic impediments to consumer acceptance.


Zeković DB, Kwiatkowski S, Vrvić MM, Jakovljević D, Moran CA. Natural and modified (1→3)-β-D-glucans in health promotion and disease alleviation. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. 2005;25(4):205-230.

Jue Li, Jing Wang, Takashi Kaneko, Li-Qiang Qin, Akio Sato. Effects of fiber intake on the blood pressure, lipids, and heart rate in Goto Kakizaki rats. Nutrition - November 2004 (Vol. 20, Issue 11, Pages 1003-1007, DOI: 10.1016/j.nut.2004.08.010).

Abumweis SS, Jew S, Ames NP. beta-glucan from barley and its lipid-lowering capacity: a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;64(12):1472-1480

Choi JS, Kim H, Jung MH, Hong S, Song J. Consumption of barley beta-glucan ameliorates fatty liver and insulin resistance in mice fed a high-fat diet. Molecular nutrition & food research. 2010 Jul;54(7):1004-1013.

Vitaglione P, Lumaga RB, Stanzione A, Scalfi L, Fogliano V. β-Glucan-enriched bread reduces energy intake and modifies plasma ghrelin and peptide YY concentrations in the short term. Appetite. 2009;53(3):338-344.

D. El Khoury, C. Cuda, B. L. Luhovyy, and G. H. Anderson. "Beta Glucan: Health Benefits in Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome". J Nutr Metab. 2012; 2012: 851362.

Biörklund M, van Rees A, Mensink RP, Önning G. Changes in serum lipids and postprandial glucose and insulin concentrations after consumption of beverages with β-glucans from oats or barley: a randomised dose-controlled trial. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005;59(11):1272-1281.

Holm J, Koellreutter B, Wursch P. Influence of sterilization, drying and oat bran enrichment of pasta on glucose and insulin responses in healthy subjects and on the rate and extent of in vitro starch digestion. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1992;46(9):629-640.

Tappy L, Gügolz E, Würsch P. Effects of breakfast cereals containing various amounts of beta-glucan fibers on plasma glucose and insulin responses in NIDDM subjects. Diabetes Care. 1996 Aug;19(8):831-4.

Bays H, Frestedt JL, Bell M, Williams C, Kolberg L, Schmelzer W, Anderson JW. Reduced viscosity Barley β-Glucan versus placebo: a randomized controlled trial of the effects on insulin sensitivity for individuals at risk for diabetes mellitus. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2011 Aug 16;8:58.

"FDA Finalizes Health Claim Associating Consumption of Barley Products with Reduction of Risk of Coronary Heart Disease." U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. FDA, 2006. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. .

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Categories: , Barley, Beta Glucan Fiber, Blood Pressure, Cholesterol Levels, Coronary Heart Disease, Diabetes, Diabetes, FDA, Food, Glycemia, Immune Function, Insulin Responses, Insulin Sensitivity, Macrophages, Neutrophils, Postprandial Glycemia, Prebiotic Effects, Prediabetes State, Serum Lipid Levels

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Posted by dallison on 7 February 2012

OK now where do I find it. A supplement, beverage or do I get it from food and what foods?

Posted by Anonymous on 7 February 2012

1. "Barley beta glucan" and "beta glucan" are used synonymously here; are they?

2. Did the drink studies use any particular type?


Posted by Wanakure on 8 February 2012

I've tried rolled barley flakes from my local food co- op. Not much flavor. Probably similar to rolled oats in calories. Barley IS a carbohydrate so requires insulin to digest. So is oat bran, but I prefer it.

Posted by safia_fatima_mohiuddin on 8 February 2012

@dallison, here is a traditional Arabian way to consume barley in beverage form: Barley Broth called 'Talbinah'

Step 1: Roast whole grains of hulled barley
Step 2: Grind the roasted barley grains
Step 3: Boil 2-3 tablespoons of ground barley in 250 ml milk for 3-5 minutes until the desired consistency is achieved. Add honey according to taste.

Hope this helps!

Posted by safia_fatima_mohiuddin on 8 February 2012

Answers to Questions:
1. "Barley beta glucan" and "beta glucan" are used synonymously here; are they?

"Beta Glucan" is the soluble fiber mostly found in oats and barley grains. The largest amount of "beta glucan" is available from barley.

The terms have been used as per research evidence. "Beta glucan" refers to those studies where the source of beta glucan was either barley or oats. However, some recent studies have indicated evidence specifically about "barley beta glucan" with beneficial effects on blood glucose.

2. Did the drink studies use any particular type?
The beverage study subjects consumed three 11 oz beverages along with meals for 12 weeks. Efficacious results in terms of improved insulin sensitivity were obtained when 6 g/d reduced viscosity barley β-glucan (BBG) extract was incorporated in the beverage.

Posted by safia_fatima_mohiuddin on 8 February 2012

Further to my comments, please consult your doctor prior to any changes in your diet.

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