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Barley Grass

Scientific Name(s): Hordeum distichon L., Hordeum vulgare L.
Common Name(s): Barley grass

Clinical Overview

Use

Barley grass is rich in vitamins and minerals, has antioxidant properties, and has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. Use as a cancer preventive or treatment has been suggested; however, this remains to be substantiated. (See also Barley monograph.)

Dosing

A dose of 15 g/day dried barley leaf extract has been used to lower cholesterol.

Contraindications

None identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Although hypersensitivity to barley products typically is associated with the seed and not the green leaves or shoots, patients with celiac disease or other sensitivities to barley probably should avoid use of barley grass.

Toxicology

No data.

Botany

Barley grass consists of the young green leaves of the barley plant, as opposed to the grain (for barley grain, refer to the Barley monograph). Barley plants can grow under a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. However, superior soil conditions are reflected in plants with higher nutritional content, and commercial suppliers of barley grass strive for optimal soil conditions for the crop. Favorable results have been achieved with crops grown in California. Barley grass is at its nutritional peak before the plant begins to produce flowers and seeds; harvesting takes place approximately 2 weeks after seeding. At this stage of development, the young grass contains vitamins and minerals similar to those of dark green vegetables. Barley grass is available commercially in dried and powdered form prepared from the whole leaves or juice obtained by milling the leaves.Lahouar 2015, USDA 2017

History

Barley is considered to be the first cereal grain cultivated by humans. Ancient Asian and Middle Eastern cultures reportedly included young wheat and barley grass plants in their diets.Margen 1992 In the early part of the 20th century, the roles of cereal grains and vitamins in nutrition were investigated. For example, chickens fed a 10% mixture of cereal grass responded well in growth, appeared to have increased resistance to degenerative diseases, and increased winter egg production. Further studies concerning "grass juice factor," a water-soluble extract of grass juice, found several beneficial growth and health effects from its supplementation in animal diets. A dehydrated preparation of cereal grass called cerophyl was approved as an "accepted food" by the Council of Foods of the American Medical Association in 1939.Lahouar 2015, Margen 1992

Chemistry

A wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes have been isolated from barley grass. It is particularly rich in beta-carotene, calcium, iron, and vitamin C, and contains abundant chlorophyll. Other vitamins, electrolytes (eg, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium), and minerals isolated from the plant in substantial quantities include vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, pantothenic acid, and folic acid. Also of note are enzymes, particularly the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase, and nitrogen reductase.Balch 1997, Margen 1992 A number of C-glycosylflavones with documented antioxidant effects have been isolated from the plant; saponarin is the major flavone.Duke 2017, Ohkawa 1998

Uses and Pharmacology

Many claims have been made regarding the health benefits of barley grass supplements. Suggested benefits include prevention and cure of cancer, treatment of HIV infection, cholesterol lowering, detoxification of pollutants, protection against solar and other forms of radiation, and boosting energy and immunity. However, objective evidence supporting many of these claims is lacking.

Hyperlipidemia

Cholesterol-lowering effects have been attributed to the hexacosyl alcohol and beta-sitosterol fractions of barley leaf extract.Yu 2004 beta-sitosterol is thought to act by inhibiting the intestinal absorption of cholesterol and accelerating its catabolism to bile acid. The mechanism of action of hexacosyl alcohol remains unclear.

Animal data

In hypercholesterolemic rats, beta-sitosterol decreased plasma cholesterol within 1 week.Ohtake 1985 Rabbits receiving a barley leaf supplement in combination with an atherogenic diet demonstrated reductions in plasma levels of serum triacylglycerol, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol compared with animals on the atherogenic diet alone.Yu 2002 Histological examination of the thoracic aorta of these rabbits supported the findings; atherosclerotic lesions covered 90% of the surface in animals fed only the atherogenic diet compared with 60% in animals receiving barley leaf extract plus an atherogenic diet. However, the effect of probucol, an established hypocholesterolemic agent, was superior to that of barley leaves (8% lesions). This result indicates that, while barley leaf may be useful in the prevention of cardiovascular disease or as an adjuvant to other treatments, it unlikely is suitable as a primary treatment for atherosclerosis.

Clinical data

Decreases in plasma total cholesterol and LDL-C concentrations were observed in hypercholesterolemic men receiving 15 g/day barley leaf extractYu 2004 and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) concentrations were increased. Barley leaf was most effective in patients with higher initial cholesterol levels. Similar results were reported in men with type 2 diabetes mellitus.Yu 2002

Antioxidant activity

Reactive oxygen species have been shown to play an important part in mediating the production of proinflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and can be instrumental in the pathogenesis of diseases such as rheumatoid synovitis, arthritis, and gout. The ability of barley leaf extract to scavenge free radicals is thought to derive from the presence of polyphenolic compounds; free radicals are rendered less reactive by donation of hydrogen ions from the phenolic moiety with the formation of less reactive phenoxyl radicals.Yu 2002 Green barley extracts, in particular a purified extract containing substances less than 1 kDa, have shown in vitro inhibitory actions on TNF-α isolated from blood and spinal fluid of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.Cremer 1998

Animal data

Increased production of oxygen-free radicals by peripheral blood leukocytes has been observed in rabbits receiving a high cholesterol diet; addition of barley leaf extract to the diet lowered their production.Lahouar 2015, Yu 2002

Clinical data

Blood levels of oxygen-free radicals were reduced by supplementation with 15 g/day barley leaf extract in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.Lahouar 2015, Yu 2002 Lahouar) Addition of vitamins C and E to the barley leaf supplements inhibited oxidation of small, dense LDL more effectively than barley leaf extract supplements alone. The lag phase of LDL oxidation was increased after supplementation with barley leaf extract. Similar results were noted in nondiabetic, hyperlipidemic subjects.Yu 2004 Antioxidative effects were less pronounced in smokers than in nonsmokers.

Cancer prevention

Barley grass extracts protect human fibroblasts against carcinogens. The mechanism of action is unknown but may be associated with the plant's antioxidant activity or its chlorophyll content. The antimutagenic effects of chlorophyll and its metabolites have been demonstrated in vitro and in vivo; it has been suggested that complexes may be formed between the carcinogen and the chlorophyll that may inactivate the carcinogen.Chernomorsky 1999 In addition, antioxidants, including superoxide dismutase, found in high concentrations in green barley juice protect against radiation and free radicals.Lahouar 2015

Animal data

Animals receiving diets that include wheat grass have shown decreased cancer incidence; similar results might be expected with barley grass supplementation.

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of barley grass for cancer-preventive properties.

Other uses

In an observational study, patients reported improvement in fibromyalgia syndrome from a dietary intervention that included barley grass.Donaldson 2001, Donaldson 2000

Dosing

A dose of 15 g/day dried barley leaf extract has been used for cholesterol lowering. This dosage provided 40 to 45 mg total phenols, 3,500 to 4,000 units beta-carotene, and 15 to 20 mg vitamin C.Yu 2004

Pregnancy / Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Hypersensitivity reactions to barley are well documented. These typically are attributed to the storage protein present in the seed of the plant and not to the green, aerial parts of the plant (see Barley monograph for further details). It may be prudent to restrict the use of barley grass in hypersensitive people, including those with celiac disease.

Toxicology

Research reveals little or no information regarding toxicology with the use of this product.

References

Balch JF, Balch PA. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 2nd ed. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group; 1997.
Chernomorsky S, Segelman A, Poretz RD. Effect of dietary chlorophyll derivatives on mutagenesis and tumor cell growth. Teratog Carcinog Mutagen. 1999;19:313-322.10495448
Cremer L, Herold A, Avram D, Szegli G. A purified green barley extract with modulatory properties upon TNF alpha and ROS released by human specialized cells isolated from RA patients. Roum Arch Microbiol Immunol. 1998;57:231-242.11845435
Donaldson MS. Metabolic vitamin B12 status on a mostly raw vegan diet with follow-up using tablets, nutritional yeast, or probiotic supplements. Ann Nutr Metab. 2000;44:229-334.11146329
Donaldson MS, Speight N, Loomis S. Fibromyalgia syndrome improved using a mostly raw vegetarian diet: an observational study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2001;1:7.11602026
Hordeum distichon L. and Hordeum vulgare L. Duke JA. Handbook of phytochemical constituents of GRAS herbs and other economic plants. Boca Raton, FL. CRC Press. https://phytochem.nal.usda.gov/phytochem. Accessed March 2017.
Hordeum vulgare. USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, Mar 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA. Accessed March 2017.
Lahouar L, El-Bok S, Achour L. Therapeutic potential of young green barley leaves in prevention and treatment of chronic diseases: an overview. Am J Chin Med. 2015;43(7):1311-29.26477798
Margen S. The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition. New York, NY: Rebas; 1992.
Ohkawa M, et al. Three new anti-oxidative saponarin analogs from young green barley leaves. Chem Pharm Biol. 1998;46:1887-1890.
Ohtake H, Nonaka S, Sawada Y, Hagiwara Y, Hagiwara H, Kubota K. Studies on the constituents of green juice from young barley leaves. Effect on dietarily induced hypercholesterolemia in rats [in Japanese]. Yakugaku Zasshi. 1985;105:1052-1057.3835251
Yu YM, Chang WC, Chang CT, Hsieh CL, Tsai CE. Effects of young barley leaf extract and antioxidative vitamins on LDL oxidation and free radical scavenging activities in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Metab. 2002;28:1262.
Yu YM, Chang WC, Liu CS, Tsai CM. Effect of young barley leaf extract and adlay on plasma lipids and LDL oxidation in hyperlipidemic smokers. Biol Pharm Bull. 2004;27:802-805.15187421
Yu YM, Wu CH, Tseng CE, Tsai CE, Chang WC. Antioxidative and hypolipidemic effects of barley leaf essence in a rabbit model of atherosclerosis. Jpn J Pharmacol. 2002;89:142-148.12120756

Disclaimer

This information relates to an herbal, vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement. This product has not been reviewed by the FDA to determine whether it is safe or effective and is not subject to the quality standards and safety information collection standards that are applicable to most prescription drugs. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product. This information does not endorse this product as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this product. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this product. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. You should talk with your health care provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this product.

This product may adversely interact with certain health and medical conditions, other prescription and over-the-counter drugs, foods, or other dietary supplements. This product may be unsafe when used before surgery or other medical procedures. It is important to fully inform your doctor about the herbal, vitamins, mineral or any other supplements you are taking before any kind of surgery or medical procedure. With the exception of certain products that are generally recognized as safe in normal quantities, including use of folic acid and prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, this product has not been sufficiently studied to determine whether it is safe to use during pregnancy or nursing or by persons younger than 2 years of age.

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