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Oats:

Medical Health Benefits

According to some studies, oats can have a positive impact on several medical conditions. Although further research and study is required, and there is no absolute or “concrete” evidence, there are indications oats can have a beneficial impact on:

Asthma

There is some indication, from a study of nearly 1300 children, to show those introduced to whole grains (and interestingly, fish) at an early age, are less likely to develop asthma.

Blood Glucose/Sugar & Diabetes

Soluble fiber (beta-glucan) found in oats is digested slowly with a prolonged and steady absorption rate of sugars into the blood stream. This helps stabilize blood sugar levels rather than create sugar “highs” or spikes. The speed at which carbohydrates are absorbed into the blood stream is measured on the glycemic index, with food slow to release sugar (like oats) being low on this index.

According to two separate studies, people with type-2 diabetes were given oats over a short period of time (4 – 8 weeks). After this period their insulin sensitivity improved and over 40% managed to reduce their insulin dosage. This is generally accredited to the beta-glucan (soluble fiber) however, oats also have a reasonable amount of magnesium in them, and this metal plays a part in regulating glucose and insulin levels in the body.

Bowel Movements

The insoluble fiber in oats provides “roughage” which promotes digestive health by helping normal bowel movements. A small study of 15 elderly and frail people, who had medically been using laxatives, were given a daily dosage of oats across a 6-week period. After this time, nearly 60% had regained normal bowel movements, and had ceased using laxatives. Laxatives often cause appreciable weight loss in the elderly not to mention any possible side effects the medication may bring too!

Cancer

Oats contain Phenolic acid (a polyphenol phytochemical) is an antioxidant which helps to prevent cell damage (from free radicals). They also contain Folic acid, which helps to produce new cells and prevent DNA changes in cells. Although extensive study and research is still required it is believed, along with tumor inhibitors and improvement to the immune system, that oats may reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Additionally, the plant lignans found in oats are converted to mammalian lignans when ingested. These lignans along with the phytoestrogen compounds are believed to fight against hormone created cancers, such as breast cancer.

Cardiovascular Disease

In 1997 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA has permitted oatmeal to use a health claim: “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include soluble fiber from oatmeal may reduce the risk of heart disease”. Although it contains caveats, this is about as strong an endorsement a food product is likely to receive. It’s the culmination of much research, covering around 40 scientific studies, demonstrating the cardiovascular benefits oats can bring.

The research shows the compounds (including antioxidants and lignans) found in oats lower blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels (see “Cholesterol” below), which reduce the risk of heart disease (and according to one study, by up to 30% in men). Additionally, Oats contain more than 20 unique polyphenols phytochemicals (called avenanthramides) providing an anti-thickening effect in arteries.

Celiac Disease

This is commonly referred to as wheat intolerance and refers to a hypersensitivity to gluten in the small intestine. This shows itself with severe abdominal pains and results in poor or limited digestion taking place. Many sufferers experience deficiencies in fiber, vitamin B1, magnesium and zinc. Several small studies have shown the addition of oats to the diet of people with gluten intolerance improve and can remove these deficiencies.

Cholesterol

Although we started this article saying there was no “concrete” evidence to support these medical benefits this is as close to an exception we can get. Oats are the only proven natural food to reduce cholesterol levels in the body, as shown by a significant study by Colorado State University. 36 overweight men with high levels of cholesterol were given a daily portion of whole grains for a 12-week period. The group who solely ate whole grain oats during this period not only had lower LDL cholesterol levels but there were lower numbers of small dense concentrations found in the body. This lead to the European Union (EU) Regulations in 2011 permitting food labels to include the following endorsement: “Oat beta-glucan reduces the cholesterol level in the blood. The lowering of the blood cholesterol level can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease”.

The soluble fiber or beta-glucans (and polyphenols) acts as a sponge in the digestive system and “mop” up tiny particles of cholesterol and fat as it passes through your body. It is thought this also makes changes to the LDL cholesterol molecules, making them less open to oxidation and thus unlikely to “harden” the arteries.

Immunity

A 2009 research from Italy found beta-glucan in oats boosted the immune system against infections from bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. Not only do white blood cells travel faster to the site of infection but their ability to combat infection is increased too.



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