12 January - 20 June 2016

β-glucan in barley can help lower cholesterol

A meta-analysis study by researchers from St Michaels, Hospital, Toronto and recently published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition has sought to review trials investigating the effect of barley β-glucan on cholesterol.

A meta-analysis study by researchers from St Michaels, Hospital, Toronto and recently published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition has sought to review trials investigating the effect of barley β-glucan on cholesterol.

β-glucan is a viscous soluble fibre that has been found to lower blood cholesterol levels.  Barley is known to be a major source of β-glucan. Previous studies have shown barley to lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LPL-C) while others have shown no effect. This current study suggests that non-high density lipoprotein cholesterol (non-HDL-C) and apolipoprotein B (apoB) may also be relevant targets for cardiovascular risk reduction using β-glucan however few studies have investigated this association. Therefore the aim of this current study was to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials which investigated the effect of barley β-glucan on LDL-C, non-HDL-C and apoB.

Ho et al. searched for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that investigated the effects of supplementation using β-glucan from barley products on LDL-C, non-HDL-C or apoB. Following searches, 14 trials were included in the meta-analysis. Of these, all reported on LDL-C while only 3 reported on apoB. No trials reported on non-HDL-C, but 13 included enough data to allow its calculation. The trials, which ran from between 3 to 12 week included a total of 615 participants with an age range from 20-60 years. Doses of β-glucan doses ranged from 1.5 – 12 g/day. Of the 14 trials 11 involved hypercholseterolemic people.

Following the application of various types of statistical analysis, Ho et al. found that a median dose of 6.5g/day of β-glucan for a median duration of 4 weeks significantly reduced LDL-C levels, by 0.25 mmol/l (approx. 7%). Similarly, a median dose of 6.9 g/day of β-glutan for a median duration of 4 weeks significantly reduced non-HDL-C levels, by 0.31 mmol/l (approx. 7%). The study notes however that apoB levels were not significantly reduced by supplementation.

The study indicates that a previous meta-analysis relating to β-glucan’s effect on LDL-C showed similar results and states that while individual studies show varying results, pooled data consistently demonstrates “an LDL-C reduction in the range of 0.25 – 0.27 mmol/l with intake of barley β-glucan.” Ho et al. note that although barley β-glucan appeared to reduce apoB levels in hypercholseterolemic participants, the reduction was not significant possibly because only three trials reported on this marker. The study also reports that no dose-response relationship was found between barley β-glucan and lowering of LDL-C and non-HDL-C levels but suggests that this could be due to the fact that β-glucan levels in barley vary between 2 and 11% and most of the RCTs reviewed did not report on any chemical analysis of the barley.

In conclusion Ho et al. state that as the RCTs involved in their analysis were conducted using a wide range of participants, they consider the results “largely generalisable” and “indicative that the cholesterol-lowering benefits can be achieved by supplementing barley β-glucan into commonly consumed foods.” They also suggest that further studies in to the effects of barley Β-glucan on non-HDL-C and apoB in participants with different metabolic phenotypes are required and that attention should be paid to β-glucan molecular weight and content to obtain “more accurate assessment of the cholesterol-lowering properties of β-glucan.”

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