Porridge's prebiotic potential previewed by Nordic researchers

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

Oats should be looked at as a possible prebiotic, say researchers
Oats should be looked at as a possible prebiotic, say researchers

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Eating a bowl of porridge oats a day could alter gut microbial functions, according to Scandinavian researchers who have tipped the ingredient as a possible prebiotic.

“Oats have been cultivated since prehistoric times, and oatmeal porridge is a traditional dish in several North European countries.

“Anecdotally, Samuel Johnson (1709–1784) defined oat as ‘a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people’ – whereupon Patrick Murray, 5th Lord Elibank (1703–1778), replied: ‘Yes, and where else will you see such horses and such men?’” ​the researchers wrote.

Now the researchers from the Lovisenberg Diaconal Hospital and University of Bergen in Norway and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden say the ingredient should be considered as a prebiotic.

After giving ten healthy subjects aged 22–49 years 60 g of oatmeal porridge daily for a week, they saw decreased faecal levels of the microbial function markers β-galactosidase and urease.


The inflammatory state of the participants, as measured by rectal levels of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) which plays a role in inflammation, also decreased but this change was not significant.

However there was no change to intestinal gas production and excretion of short-chain fatty acid following the dietary intervention.

“The results suggest that oatmeal porridge has an effect on gut microbial functions and may possess potential prebiotic properties that deserve to be investigated further,”​ the researchers wrote in the British Journal of Nutrition.

A bowl a day keeps microbial enzymesaway

Previous studies suggested microbial function could be measured via levels of the microbial enzyme β-Galactosidase, which has been associated with improvement of abdominal symptoms of lactose intolerances.

However, they said their results questioned whether an increase in β-galactosidase could be considered as a general marker of a favourable gut microflora. 

Faecal β-galactosidase activity was reduced during the study from 14.6 to 5.3 mU/ml (milli units per millilitre). 

They also tracked levels of microbial enzyme urease, which can have several toxic effects on the host and has been advocated as a general marker of an unfavourable gut microflora. 

Faecal urease levels decreased from 4.5 to 3.7 mg/ml following the dietary intervention. 

“Our results of decreased faecal levels of urease following the dietary intervention are therefore interesting and suggest that oatmeal porridge has prebiotic actions,” ​they wrote.  

“Furthermore, the use of oatmeal porridge in the treatment of hyperammonaemia, to suppress intestinal urease levels and thereby blood ammonia levels, may be considered.”

Source: British Journal of Nutrition

Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1017/S0007114515004213

“Oatmeal porridge: impact on microflora-associated characteristics in healthy subjects”

Authors: J. Valeura, N. G. Puaschitza, T. Midtvedta and A. Berstada

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