This news release summarizes a meta-analysis of studies measuring the cholesterol-lowering properties of barley. The analysis found that barley consumption was associated with lower cholesterol but its effectiveness in reducing risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) is implied, not proven. The release would have been much stronger had it quantified benefits and been more descriptive of what the research actually found: that barley can modify various cholesterol levels, but whether this contributes to lower CVD risk is still an open question.
This is important research that is essentially gathering together (and meta-analyzing) randomized trials that examine the cholesterol-lowering potential of barley β-glucan on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (non-HDL-C) and apolipoprotein B (apoB). Since modifications of these cholesterol markers may contribute to CVD risk reduction, they are worth studying. It is important, however, that dietary or nutritional studies include appropriate caveats, and not claim effects that are not seen in the research.
Barley, like oats or other grains are cheap and plentiful. Mentioning their cost in the story is unlikely to be an important factor.
There was no quantification of benefits. You have to go back to the original study to learn this: “A median dose of 6.5 and 6.9 g/day of barley β-glucan for a median duration of 4 weeks significantly reduced LDL-C (MD = − 0.25 mmol/l (95% CI: − 0.30, − 0.20)) and non-HDL-C (MD = − 0.31 mmol/l (95% CI: − 0.39, − 0.23)), respectively, with no significant changes to apoB levels, compared with control diets.” It would have been nice to have had these reductions contextualized in a form that makes sense to the readers.
There are unlikely to be harms for most people if they increased their barley consumption, but upping their daily intake could also lead to gastrointestinal problems in some people. The recommended daily consumption of barley in Canada is 3 grams but the study recommends that it be increased to 6.5 to 7 grams daily. People diagnosed with Celiac disease have most likely already been advised that consuming barley (as well as other foods containing gluten) can cause complications.
The claim here is unsubstantiated: “‘After looking at the evidence, we can also say that barley is comparably effective as oats in reducing overall risk of cardiovascular disease’ said Dr. Vuksan.'”
Were oats compared directly with barley in this meta-analysis? No.
The study in question was a meta-analysis of more than a dozen studies on barley. It was a well conducted meta-analysis with pretty high-level evidence. The release does not mention that and muddies the waters by saying this was the first study of barley on several types of cholesterol. Well, if this is a meta-analysis of 14 studies on this question, how can it be the first?
No obvious disease mongering.
There’s no mention of funders and financial ties to industry which should always be disclosed as a potential conflict of interest. Several of the researchers involved have financial ties to both trade groups and corporations, according to the published report. For example, one of the authors holds Canadian and U.S. patents on a medical use of viscous fiber for certain health conditions.
The release makes brief mention of barley in comparison to oats. It states that “barley is higher in fibre, has twice the protein and almost half the calories of oats, which are important considerations for those with weight or dietary concerns,” We aren’t provided any quantification of the claim.
The release also skipped over some of the other common ways there are to lower cholesterol including medications, exercise, other foods and dietary supplements, and weight loss.
We learn that barley is everywhere, readily available and ready to add to your food.
We don’t think the release established the novelty of the research in the manner it’s claimed:
“It is the first study to look at the effects of barley and barley products on both LDL and non-HDL cholesterol in addition to apolipoprotein B, or apoB, a lipoprotein that carries bad cholesterol through the blood.”
How could it be the “first study” when it is looking at a group of studies? Is it the first meta-analysis to examine this question? If so, that should be mentioned.
The release doesn’t engage in sensationalist or unjustified language.