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Can hulled barley help to normalize your blood sugar levels?

Rye and barley products facilitate blood glucose and appetite regulation, says recent research. Evidence from observational studies indicates that diets rich in whole grain reduce risk of obesity and other diseases related to the metabolic syndrome e.g. type 2 diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. You may wish to check out the 2010 study, "Rye and barley products facilitate blood glucose and appetite regulation." The issue for some is that barley and rye contain gluten, and there are people with bad reactions to various cereal grains who can't eat grains containing gluten, but they can eat gluten-free grains such as quinoa, amaranth, corn, and rice, all of which can be ground into flour for baking or various types of cooking or pasta-making. And some people even grind lentils or chick peas into flour/meal or use oat bran for baking, using an electric coffee grinder.

Can hulled barley help to normalize your blood sugar levels?
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The mechanisms involved in how barley may help to normalize blood sugar/glucose levels are only partially elucidated. Hulled, not pearled barley is what you want to eat for the soluble and insoluble fiber and the B-vitamins, if you are able to tolerate barley. You also may wish to check out the abstract of a study from 2008, published in the Journal of Nutrition, "Including indigestible carbohydrates in the evening meal of healthy subjects improves glucose tolerance, lowers inflammatory markers, and increases satiety after a subsequent standardized breakfast."

If you've heard of the European Union's Integrated Project known as 'Healthgrain', the Healthgrain project has substantially strengthened the scientific basis for a new generation of cereal based products with enhanced health benefits. The project also has formed a network of research organizations, industries and organizations communicating to consumers that will continue as the Healthgrain Forum.

Results of the project were presented recently in the Healthgrain Conference in Lund, Sweden, according to the site, The research has been coordinated by Academy Professor Kaisa Poutanen from VTT Technical Research Center of Finland. Work within HEALTHGRAIN has revealed novel insights regarding some potential mechanisms, according to studies such as, "Rye and barley products facilitate blood glucose and appetite regulation" from the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland.

Can barley help those with metabolic syndrome?

Addition of whole grain barley products with slow glycemic response and rich in dietary fiber and resistant starch in test meals significantly improved insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetic subjects as compared with whole grain wheat or white wheat, according to that study in Finland.

One of the reasons why insulin sensitivity was improved is because barley products are rich in indigestible carbohydrates (dietary fiber and resistant starch). And barley facilitates glycemic regulation through a mechanism involving fermentation by gut micro-organisms.

Fermentation in the research has been associated with release of specific gut hormones (GLP-1), with acknowledged benefits on a variety of parameters associated with reduced risk of the metabolic syndrome, including benefits on perceived satiety. How the process works is that the gut hormone, GLP-1 is currently investigated for use as an antidiabetic, antiobesity drug, but appears to be produced endogenously in healthy subjects after intake of certain whole grain barley products rich in indigestible carbohydrates.

Which grains produce a healthier blood glucose profile after eating?

Additionally, rye products generally produce a beneficial blood glucose profile following a meal, with a low and sustained blood glucose response. Rye products also induced lowered insulin response compared with white wheat, promoted higher post-meal satiety, and induced lowered voluntary energy intake at a subsequent meal. Studies within 'Healthgrain' indicate that different rye genotypes vary with respect to benefits on glycemic regulation and insulin demand.

The results are in favor of metabolic benefits of an increased consumption of in particular whole grain barley products with low glycemic response, and foods made of certain rye varieties. The results provide tools for tailoring of whole grain cereal products with magnified health benefits adjunct to the metabolic syndrome.

At the Division of Applied Nutrition and Food Chemistry, Faculty of Engineering in Lund University, Sweden, food-related nutritional research is carried out with the aim of gaining an understanding of how the composition and properties of food affect the health of the consumer. Special interest is being focused on the possibility of optimizing the nutritional content and health-promoting properties in general through the selection of raw materials and processes in the production of foodstuffs.

A particular focus is on the quality characteristics of carbohydrates and proteins, and on the possible link between the gut microbiota and host metabolism. Within the subject of food chemistry, reactions are being studied in the handling, storage and processing of foodstuffs. Great importance is afforded to the development of new and specific methods for food analysis.

One of the organization's most important projects is concerned with the changes in dietary fiber during processing. Another central area is the study of the Maillard reaction in relation to safe food. One example would be the production of carcinogenic substances during the heating of food, and their effects. For more information, see the applied nutrition site.

Optimizing blood glucose control

Another study seeks to improve stroke outcomes by optimizing blood glucose controlAbout 40 percent of ischemic stroke patients arrive at the hospital with high blood glucose levels that can worsen their brain damage, say physicians working to stop the additional loss.

Insulin, a hormone that enables cells to use glucose as energy, can help, but questions remain about the optimal way to give it, said Dr. Askiel Bruno, stroke specialist at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Health Sciences University. He's a Clinical Principal Investigator on a National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke-funded study that should determine whether intravenous delivery or the usual shot of insulin works best. Other Clinical Principal Investigators for the trial enrolling 1,400 participants nationally are Dr. Christiana E. Hall, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Dr. Karen C. Johnston, University of Virginia School of Medicine.

A quick finger prick to check blood glucose levels is part of the early evaluation of all stroke patients in the emergency room, whether or not they are diabetic, Bruno said. It's important not only because of the association with increased damage but because the symptoms of low glucose can mimic stroke symptoms.

"When blood glucose is high the damage is worse so lowering that glucose right away, should result in less damage and better outcomes for patients," he said in the news release, "Study seeks to improve stroke outcomes by optimizing blood glucose control."

Exactly why blood glucose levels rise dramatically with a stroke is not completely understood, but it's known that stroke triggers the release of stress hormones that interfere with insulin's ability to coax glucose into cells, Bruno said, according to the news release. A leading theory is that free radicals produced by stroke also pile on the damage.

"The body just does not respond to insulin as it should and stress hormones interfere with the response," Bruno said in the news release. In a more chronic situation, an elevated blood glucose also is a major risk factor for stroke, he explained in the news release, "Study seeks to improve stroke outcomes by optimizing blood glucose control."

When acute high blood glucose levels are detected in stroke patients – 150 milligrams per deciliter or greater versus a healthy 100 or less – most typically get a shot of insulin. When those levels are particularly difficult to control, patients may get an intravenous dose instead, which requires closer monitoring but seem to work faster and better at getting and keeping levels safe.

The "Shine Trial" directly compares stroke outcome using the two approaches to determine the most efficacious, Bruno said. Study participants will receive insulin for up to three days – when the brain's circulation should be more stable – then resume standard care. At three months, stroke recovery will be objectively assessed.

Lowering the blood glucose/sugar levels of stroke victims within four hours of the stroke

"How are you doing? That is the key question. We may find intravenous works better for some patients than others," said Bruno who led a small pilot study at Indiana University School of Medicine that showed that within four hours, intravenous insulin reduced stroke patients' blood glucose levels 31 percent more than shots.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, affecting nearly 800,000 Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 85 percent of strokes are ischemic, which means portions of the brain aren't getting enough oxygen. The remainder result from brain bleeding. The clotbuster tPA is currently the only Food and Drug Administration-approved drug therapy for ischemic stroke and only about 5 percent of patients receive the drug which must be given within four-and-one-half hours after the onset of symptoms.

Both the soluble and insoluble fiber in barley lowers blood sugar levels after eating usual meals. But more important that barley's ability to lower blood glucose levels is its ability to lower excess insulin in the bloodstream as well.

This is important because you don't want excess insulin levels staying in your blood to more rapidly age your arteries and organs. What you want are your body's glucose and insulin responses tempered after a meal. The longer-term effects of eating barley if you don't have diabetes has been studied. The conclusion of these studies reported that after 12 weeks of eating barley, scientists found that daily ingestion of soluble barley fiber significantly reduced fasting serum insulin values. You also may wish to check out the abstract of a 2009 study, "Endosperm and whole grain rye breads are characterized by low post-prandial insulin response and a beneficial blood glucose profile," published in the Nutrition Journal.

When oral glucose tolerance tests were given, the daily eating of soluble barley fiber also significantly reduced fasting serum insulin values along with those lowered blood glucose responses, according to the study, "Reduced viscosity barley beta-glucan versus placebo: a randomized controlled trial of the effects on insulin sensitivity for individuals at risk for diabetes mellitus." The study is published in the journal Nutritional Metabolism (London), August 16, 2011.

Besides being associated with weight control, barley can minimize overall calorie ingestion because barley is high in protein and fiber

In the study, "Reduced viscosity Barley β-Glucan versus placebo: a randomized controlled trial of the effects on insulin sensitivity for individuals at risk for diabetes mellitus," barley helped to improve insulin sensitivity among hyperglycemic individuals with no prior diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Although in that study, there was no change in body weight, the question is for those with high insulin spikes and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) after eating a sugary meal or cookie on an empty stomach, can the soluble fiber in barley help to normalize blood glucose levels? And can the insoluble fiber from barley also help make healthier insulin levels in the bloodstream?

You don't want to buy polished pearl barley with the hull scratched off. So buy hulled barley not pearled barley. In the study, the findings suggested eating 6 g/d BBG consumed in a beverage over 12 weeks may improve insulin sensitivity among hyperglycemic individuals with no prior diagnosis of diabetes mellitus, and who experience no change in body weight, according to the study in the journal Nutritional Metabolism.

Hulled, not pearled barley is what you want to eat for the soluble and insoluble fiber and the B-vitamins

Research has shown that hulled, not pearled barley is a rich source of soluble and insoluble fiber that can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The most important part of the barley is the insoluble fiber. If you look at the studies, they show that consumption of insoluble dietary fiber found in certain whole grains such as hulled barley is a rich source of soluble fiber. Check out the research at What can barley do for you ? - Barley World.

Food barley is both soluble and insoluble. But researchers have identified beta-glucans the primary component in barley that is responsible for lowering cholesterol. Based on scientific evidence, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a rule in 2006 allowing barley foods to carry a health claim specific to soluble fiber and coronary heart disease.

Researchers are not talking about beer barley. It's hulled food barley that has been studied for health benefits because hulled food barley contains beta-glucan.

Barley for beer is used specifically for beer making because it has to be low in beta-glucan to make good beer. On the other hand, barley for food must be high in beta-glucan. Beta-glucan is the primary building block of cell walls in the grains of both barley and oats. Wheat and rye have cell walls too, but they don't contain beta-glucan.

That's one reason why you get higher insulin spikes after eating wheat or rye, which also contain gluten. Although barley contains gluten, it also contains beta-glucan. What makes beta-glucan so special (for food) is that it's a source of insoluble and soluble dietary fiber. Fiber is so vital for good health that the Institute of Medicine recommends at least 25 grams per day for everyone over the age of four.

What you're looking for is insoluble fiber because some of the insoluble fiber in barley is digested by bacteria in your colon to produce short-chain fatty acids, which in turn can promote bowel health as well as help repair the mucosa of your colon, also helping those with ulcerative colitis, according to the April 2013 Life Extension Magazine article on page 38, "Foods That Safely Reduce Blood Glucose." Or you may wish to check out the abstract of a 2010 study, "Metabolic effects of whole grain wheat and whole grain rye in the C57BL/6J mouse," that appears in the journal Nutrition.

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