Atherosclerosis – hypolipidemic effects of barley

Antioxidative and hypolipidemic effects of barley leaf essence in a rabbit model of atherosclerosis.

Yu, Y-M., Wu, C-H., Tseng, Y-H., Tsai, C., Chang, W-C. Jpn. J Pharmacol. 89 142-148, 2002.

Background: Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is a major risk factor for heart disease.  A number of animal models have been developed to study atherosclerosis—one of the most common models is a rabbit model where rabbits are fed a high cholesterol diet.  These rabbits develop many of the same biochemical and physical characteristics that humans with atherosclerosis do—making this rabbit model excellent for studying the disease.  One of the effects of high cholesterol is an increase in lipid peroxidation—in lipid peroxidation, the lipids (cholesterol, HDL, LDL) are oxidized (this oxidation is similar to the process that produces rust…)  These oxidized products can cause problems—and, this process increases the levels of very reactive oxygen substances (ROS) that can damage tissue.  This is one of the reasons anti-oxidants are so important for health—they “sop up” these damaging oxygen compounds and protect the tissue against their damaging effects.

Laboratory Studies: These researchers used young, freeze-dried barley leaves to see if this could decrease cholesterol levels, act as an anti-oxidant, prevent the damage to red blood cells and slow down the growth of the atherosclerotic plaques in these rabbits.  The researchers compared the effects of barley leaves to another antioxidant, Probucol that has been used clinically to reduce cholesterol levels.

Conclusions: Both the barley leaves and the Probucol were able to lower the cholesterol levels and decrease the levels of ROS in these rabbits.  The barley leaves and Probucol were also able to lower the number of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries of the rabbits.  Barley leaves were not quite as effective as the Probucol in decreasing the damage of the high cholesterol diet, but the researchers suggested that barley leaves may be very useful in preventing and treating any heart disease where atherosclerosis plays an important part.