Anyone for porridge?

Beneficial compounds found in oats (Photo: Cheryl Colan)

Beneficial compounds found in oats (Photo: Cheryl Colan)

I didn’t think so, porridge might not be your favourite food. It is a bit messy to prepare and it is difficult to clean the pots afterwards. But there are other ways to increase the consumption of oats. Think breakfast cereals and why not bread or biscuits, but about all else think carefully of trying to raise your oat intake. Horse trainers already know the benefits of oats. Why should horses be the only beneficiaries?

Seriously though, there is now a new reason to eat oats for heart health and a range of other diseases. It is already known that the soluble fibre in oats helps lower total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, but scientists now say that the cardiovascular health benefits of oats goes beyond fibre.

The beneficial compounds in oats identified

Eating whole grains has been consistently linked to a reduced risk of several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Most of the benefits have been attributed to the relatively high fibre, vitamin, mineral and phytochemical content of whole grains. And in particular, the soluble beta-glucan fibre found in oats has been recognised for its ability to lower both total and LDL cholesterol.

Now, scientists have emphasised growing evidence that phenolic compounds called avenanthramides might be behind most of the benefits seen.  There are about 40 or so different avenanthramides found only in oats and three of them in particular seem to act as potent antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, anti-itch and anti-cancer agents, which may provide additional protection against coronary heart disease, colon cancer, and skin irritation.

Avenanthramides are a type of oat phytoalexins that are found in the whole grain with the fibre-rich bran portion of the grain intact. Phytoalexins are substances produced in plants that act as toxins attacking organisms like fungi. They may puncture the cell wall of the fungus, delay maturation, disrupt metabolism or prevent reproduction. Accordingly, researchers have found that oat cultivars with the strongest resistance to crown rust, a fungus that affects oat grains, had the highest concentration of avenanthramides. It is thus possible for  farmers to select highly resistant oat cultivars to increase the production of avenanthramides in the grain.

So many good things linked to oats

Delicious oat bread is even good for you (Photo: Theresa Carle-Sanders)

Delicious oat bread is even good for you (Photo: Theresa Carle-Sanders)

Health-conscious consumers have long chosen foods that include oats because of prominent and snappy “heart healthy” claims made by oats producers. And right they were. Compared to vitamin E, which is a strong well known antioxidant, the antioxidant effect of the avenanthramides is initially weaker but instead the effect is prolonged. But there is more.

Scientific studies have shown that avenanthramides also hinder the ability of blood cells to stick to artery walls, and arrests smooth muscle cell proliferation. Both events known to cause arterial lesions contributing to the development of atherosclerosis, which can eventually lead to heart attack. Earlier human clinical studies have also shown that consumption of oats reduces blood pressure.

But there is even more and I don’t want to sound as a salesman. However, you need to know that colloidal oatmeal can be used for the symptomatic relief of dry skin and itching. Human skin tests have shown that avenanthramides inhibits the release of  histamine that play a major role in itch sensation and reddening of skin. Avenanthramides have already been used as an ingredient in shampoos and topical sprays for the relief of adverse skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis.

So next time you hear that oat is good for you, you better believe it.

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