A new clinical study has found that eating oatmeal and other wholegrain oat cereals can help control blood pressure levels. With growing levels of hypertension costing health services millions in treatment, the research comes as welcome news for health authorities.
The study, published in the recent issue of the scientific journal Preventive Medicine in Managed Care, showed that 73 per cent of participants who ate oat cereal daily for 12 weeks were able to reduce or eliminate their need for blood pressure medication at an average annual saving of $197.63 per patient.
Only 42 per cent of a control group, who were fed low-fibre cereals but with minimal beta glucan, (the soluble fibre found in oats), reduced or eliminated their blood pressure medication.
Joseph M. Keenan, interim chair of the University of Minnesota's Department of Family Practice & Community Health and lead author of the study, said it was one of the first studies to quantify the cost savings of prescription drugs when using a dietary approach to help combat high blood pressure.
"According to our findings, a diet containing soluble, fibre-rich, wholegrain, oat-based cereals can reduce the need for medicine to control hypertension and improve blood pressure control among people being treated for high blood pressure," he said.
According to Dr Keenan's study, the prescription drug savings are estimated to be nearly $18.5 million a year. But that figure excludes other significant savings - such as fewer office visits, other drug-related complications and reduced monitoring costs.
Forty-five men and 43 women on medication and with blood pressure of no greater than 160/100 mm Hg participated in the study. In general, the normal blood pressure reading for adults is 120/80 mm Hg, with 120 representing the upper or systolic blood-pressure number (SBP) and 80 representing the lower or diastolic number (DBP). Studies indicate that lowering the systolic and diastolic number cuts down on strokes and heart attacks.
About half the group received Quaker Oats cereals - Quaker Oatmeal and Quaker Oat Squares - containing 5.42 grams a day of beta glucan found in oats. The other participants received minimal beta glucan in their cereals. Besides the cereals, Quaker Oats provided partial financial support for the study.
The research also reinforced the health benefits of oatmeal to improve cardiovascular health. It showed significant differences between the two groups for blood pressure, total cholesterol, and so-called 'bad' cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and plasma glucose. In the oat-treatment group, the study also reported that 36 per cent were able to reduce their blood pressure medication entirely, compared with only nine per cent in the control group. While the control group registered virtually no change in systolic and diastolic blood pressures, the oat-cereal group recorded significant reductions.
Dr Keenan said that although more research was needed to confirm the findings of the study, the blood pressure reductions observed "can make a meaningful contribution to clinical management of blood pressure - especially in the context of diet as an adjunct to medication". He noted that in addition to the medication reduction there was better control of their hypertension.
It is not fully understood exactly how oats can help reduce blood pressure , but Dr Keenan said that oats' total and soluble fibre, mineral content and grain antioxidants may contribute to the favourable blood pressure results, "possibly via an improvement in insulin sensitivity."
He also noted that consumption of high-fibre cereals, as used by the test group, "is an easy and simple way for a person to increase total and soluble fibre intakes, thus helping to reach the dietary fibre goal of 25 to 30 grams a day" .