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Barley beta-glucans and lowering of blood cholesterol and reduced risk of (coronary) heart disease

Scientific opinion on the substantiation of a health claim relation to barley beta-glucans and lowering of blood cholesterol and reduced  risk of (coronary) heart disease pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006

  • European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Parma, Italy

What it contains

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Background information

The subject matter is the effect of barley beta-glucans

  • Beta-glucans are non-starch polysaccharides that consist of many glucose molecules in a long line.
  • The subject matter who may receive a health benefit from barley beta-glucans are adults with normal or slightly elevated cholesterol levels.
  • The EFSA panel considers that lowering blood cholesterol levels is a beneficial physiological effect that lowers the risk of coronary heart disease.


  • The first meta-analysis included 11 studies, with a total of 591 subjects. Seven of the studies had a cross-over design and four a parallel design, with the mean intervention time being just over 5 weeks. The subjects included both normal and high cholesterol subjects. The daily consumption of barley beta-glucans were between 3-12 grams. The barley beta glucans were consumed via barley flour, barley flakes, pearled barley and barley bran. Overall HDL cholesterol levels were unaffected. Whilst total cholesterol levels reduced by an average of 0.30 mmol/L with a reduction in 0.27 mmol/L for LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • The second meta-analysis included 8 studies, seven of which were included in the above meta-analysis. The additional study was a randomised, parallel 30-day intervention trial in 79 high cholesterol sufferers. Similar results were seen as per the first meta-analysis.
  • In a randomised controlled cross-over trial, 24 males with mildly raised cholesterol levels consumed either a barley beta-glucan enriched diet or a rice-bran enriched diet. In the barley beta-glucan diet, they consumed 6g of barley beta-glucans per day. Compared to the rice-bran diet, the consumers of the barley beta-glucan enriched diet reduced their total cholesterol by 0.34mmol/L and 0.21 mmol/L for LDL cholesterol. This is considered a significant reduction.

Cholesterol Lowering Effect

The panel believe that a cause and effect relationship has been established between barley beta-glucans, the lowering of blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. This has been achieved as contemplating all of the evidence, the panel investigated the effects of barley beta-glucans of at least 3g per day intake. With this level of consumption, there was a decrease in total and LDL cholesterol in adults with normal blood cholesterol levels and also those with high blood cholesterol levels.

Based on the evidence, the panel believes that at least 3g of barley beta-glucans should be consumed everyday in order to achieve the claimed effect.

Approved Health Claim

The approved wording for the health claim is: “Barley beta-glucans have been shown to lower/reduce blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease.”

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