Shed fat, protect bones: South Korea promotes beta-glucan rich barley for use in functional foods

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

Beta-glucan rich barley is shown to inhibit the formation of fat cells, according to South Korean researchers. ©Getty Images
Beta-glucan rich barley is shown to inhibit the formation of fat cells, according to South Korean researchers. ©Getty Images

Related tags: South korea, Functional foods, Obesity, Osteoporosis

South Korea is promoting the use of a beta-glucan rich barley in functional foods, following promising findings on how the ingredient could suppress obesity and osteoporosis.

For instance, it could inhibit the formation of fat cells, also known as adipocyte differentiation, by 95% in an extract of 10 μg/mL.

It also inhibited osteoclast formation even at a low extract concentration of 1μg/mL.

This is the first time that barley extract has been shown to suppress obesity and osteoporosis, said the Rural Development Administration (RDA).

It added that it was the ‘Beta One’ barley species that could bring about the benefits.

The ‘Beta One’ species,​ developed by the RDA five years ago, has the highest content of beta-glucan amongst locally grown barley at 11.4%, while others such as rice only have a content of 6.5%.

The high beta-glucan content is also the reason behind the name of the species. The compound is known for strengthening the immune system, reducing blood cholesterol, CVD, and diabetes.

The ‘Beta One’ barley species is currently cultivated in Gwangju and the Yeonggwang county.

It is also sold as a milled barley in Korean supermarket for the first time this year, Dr Lee Mi-Ja, one of the developers of Beta-One, said in response to queries from NutraIngredients-Asia.

Following the findings, the RDA plans to cultivate a 30ha wide plantation to grow the ‘Beta One’ barley species and increase its supply, especially for use in functional foods.

At present, the ingredient is usually mixed and eaten with rice, said Dr Lee.

“This research is expected to increase the level of interest and the use of excellent domestic barley raw materials as health functional food material.

“We will strive to create a stable supply system for the raw materials and to differentiate ourselves from imported agricultural products and strengthen market competitiveness,”​ said Park Ki-do, the crops basics division manager at RDA.

The science

In-vitro experiment has shown that 10 μg/mL of the ‘Beta One’ barley water extract could inhibit the formation of both fat cells and osteoclasts – cells responsible for the dissolution of bones.

In fact, osteoclast formation could be inhibited even when the affected cells are treated with a low concentration of the extract at 1μg/mL.

The researchers explained this was because the extract inhibits the RNA expression of ‘NFATc1’- an important factor for osteoclast formation.

It also decreased the mRNA expression levels of various osteoclast differentiation marker genes and reduced the osteoclast activity.

Such effects were also seen in mice induced with osteoporosis.

Dr Lee said that the results were under review for publication in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (eCAM).

“I have performed experiments on the physiological activities of Beta-One in order to prove its value as a functional food. It has a good ability for preventing obesity and osteoporosis,” ​she said.

Conducted by the National Institute of Crop Science (NICS) and Sunchon National University, the experiment also found that the barley extract is non-toxic when used at different concentrations.

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