Think of the word "barley," and often the first thing that comes to mind is a field full of wheat, or a drum filled with artisanal brew. Nevertheless, barley is far more than a grain waving in a field, or the base for some of the most popular drinks worldwide. Barley is actually a lesser-recognized but powerful plant, whose young shoots provide a hefty dose of nutrients and antioxidant enzymes. Does barley grass truly have a strong medical use history?
Its usage in food stuff does not usually touch on the powerful antioxidants and benefits of barley leaf powder and juices. Here, we identify the 5 most significant benefits of barley grass.
What Is Barley Grass and Where Does It Come From?
Barley grass, also called barley greens, is simply the initial growth of a barley plant, before it has grown large and mature enough to sprout seeds. Rather than the grain so often used, barley grass is made up of the leaves from a barley plant. The amino acid concentration is higher in the young leaves of the plant, when compared to the grain that emerges in more mature plants.
While modern uses for barley focus on the grains of the plant, barley as a whole has been used for centuries, with uses dating back to ancient writings from Greece and Rome. In these places and during these times, barley was considered a powerful plant ally, used medicinally, as well as for food and drink. Barley was considered valuable to the point of being almost sacred, with writers describing it alternately as one of the "immortal sons of heaven" and one of only 5 sacred plants. Despite its current, more limited range in the minds of the masses, barley has a long history of being highly valued and eagerly sought after.
The Best Health Benefits of Barley Grass
While ancient recommendations do not always hold true, barley grass is an example of enduring wisdom, as modern studies have demonstrated the value of barley greens, whether they come in the form of the plant itself, or in the form of barley grass powder or barley grass juice. This antioxidant-rich food has benefits that may be able to improve blood cell levels in the body, improve blood flow via its heart-protective effects, and more, all of which will be examined in greater detail below.
1. Antioxidant Abundant
Although these greens are abundant in antioxidants, two of the most notable are vitamins C and A. Vitamin C has long been associated with improved immunity and general health, while vitamin A is often linked to vision health and growth.
In addition to vitamin A and vitamin C, barley contains vitamin E, folic acid, and beta-carotene. In one study, the leaves of barley were associated with a reduced risk of lung cancer and cancer in male smokers--a powerful discovery for anyone experiencing chronic disease following cigarette use or other long-term exposure to smoke.
Antioxidants are generally helpful for supporting health, from supporting red blood cells, to minimizing the effects of aging. The effects of barley grass are the same as the effects of antioxidants from other sources; namely, an important tool to reduce the risk of serious disease, fight the varied signs and symptoms of aging, and reduce free radicals (and corresponding damage) within the body.
2. UV Radiation Protection
Barley leaves can also help protect against UV radiation; barley contains superoxide dismutase enzymes, which have a UV-protective effect. While superoxide dismutase enzymes may not be common dinner table conversation, this study goes into greater detail regarding the many benefits of these enzymes found in barley grass supplements and the leaves themselves, with benefits ranging from imparting youthful skin to eliminating free radical damage in the body, to reducing scar tissue in the wake of an injury or wound.
Barley grass juices and powders should not take the place of sun protection and other UV radiation protection measures, but can instead be utilized to ward off the damage caused by this type of exposure--an important distinction when determining how to include barley greens as part of your armory against UV damage.
3. Reduces Risk of Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease
Using barley for strength is also a potential benefit; the ingredients of barley grass can help improve the symptoms of diabetes and protect against its development, while limiting the risks and symptoms of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Because both of these conditions have reached alarming levels, 1 in every 5 deaths is attributed to heart disease, while just over 10% of the population is said to have diabetes. With such high numbers, doctor's offices, health food stores, and alternative practitioners are continually looking for rich sources of nutrients and antioxidants.
One study found that barley grass can help reduce the risk of obesity and cancer, and successfully reduces cholesterol. Because the entire body has the potential to be negatively impacted by high cholesterol levels and the DNA damage caused by free radicals in the body, finding a source not only of vitamins and antioxidants, but also dietary fiber is invaluable. When barley grass juice is consumed, it feeds intestinal bacteria to increase or maintain GI health and allows blood sugar to be more slowly released into the bloodstream, part of the mechanism of action making barley greens protective against both diabetes and CVD.
4. Helps Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis is not extremely common, but for those it does affect, it can be debilitating. Barley is regarded as a cereal crop, but its insoluble fiber and other components can be enormously helpful in mitigating symptoms of ulcerative colitis. One study showed that the many components found in barley--using barley grass powder as the mechanism of delivery--are tied to improvements in bacterial activity in the gut, while reducing inflammation and easing bodily triggers that negatively impact bowels.
The phytochemicals and essential vitamins in barley can play a therapeutic role in managing ulcerative colitis; while a healthcare provider may not use it as a primary treatment, it can provide a degree of relief from the bowel-related symptoms of UC, as well as improving skin health, boosting the immune system, and encouraging healthy bacterial growth.
5. Celiac Disease? Barley Grass Is Gluten Free
Barley's green leaves are gluten free, even if barley grains are not, making it appropriate for regular consumption by those who eat gluten free, or those who have celiac disease. Because barley can play a therapeutic role in a host of conditions, consuming barley leaf extract, powder, or even drinking it as a green juice can offer a protective effect against ill health. The ingredients of barley grass ward against chronic disease, and barley grass powder is an excellent gluten free antioxidant for individuals with celiac disease.
When searching for a barley grass product, it is important to make sure you are receiving the young shoots, rather than a mature plant; mature barley grains contain gluten, while greens do not. Combining barley greens with other powerful antioxidants can provide an additional boost to all of the beneficial effects identified here.
How Much Barley Grass Should I Consume Each Day?
To effectively reap the benefits of this particular superfood and its actions against chronic disease, it can be taken 3 times each day, in doses of 3-4 grams. The ideal total daily intake should fall at 9-12 grams, according to one source--a dose that many barley grass extract manufacturers follow.
Although barley contains essential amino acids and beneficial compounds like gamma-aminobutyric acid, it is advisable to consult your doctor to make sure barley grass juice powder and other types of supplementation are right for you; some supplements can interact with existing medication and incur undesirable effects.
How Is Barley Grass Consumed?
Barley grass powder is the most common means of delivery. This powder can be added to green juices (and is often featured at juice bars), smoothies, fruit juice, and more, though it should not be added to hot or boiling liquids. Because the consumption of barley grass directly is frequently non-preferred, due to its gritty texture, many barley grass products are used in blended drinks and foods, such as smoothies and soup. 3 heaping teaspoons of barley grass is difficult to hide in a simple cup of water, but putting the same amount of a barley grass product in a smoothie or soup will effectively hide texture.
Whether you take a barley grass capsule or make a barley grass smoothie every morning, this functional food is an excellent addition to your routine. Barley has been linked to improvements in blood pressure, blood sugar regulation, heart disease, immune responses, and more. Blood glucose levels, plaque-filled blood vessels, and even inappropriate immune responses are increasingly common ailments, and having a tool at your disposal to combat these concerns can greatly improve quality of life.
With glutamic acid, ascorbic acid, and more beneficial compounds, barley grass is an excellent source of vitamin A, and can even function as a source of calcium, with health effects extending far beyond reducing the risk of heart disease and other inflammatory diseases and soothing some symptoms of chronic disease. Barley grass can be used as a support for bone health, skin health, and as a general boon for the human body, whether it comes in powder form or supplement form. With anti-inflammatory effects persisting past targeted applications for ulcerative colitis and similar ailments, the grass from this unassuming cereal grain can provide protection against oxidative damage and positively impact your daily routine.