New study on ‘better-for-you’ beta glucans give oats a boost

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

A heart healthy bowl of oats, now found to be even more beneficial. ©iStock/5PH
A heart healthy bowl of oats, now found to be even more beneficial. ©iStock/5PH

Related tags Cholesterol Nutrition United nations

It’s long been cited by researchers that oats are healthy and now a new mechanism behind this reasoning has been revealed.

Scientists at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia claim to have discovered how beta glucans in oats reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood stream, which lowers the risk of heart disease.

Beta glucans, a soluble fiber naturally occurring in the cell walls of some plants, particularly cereals, are believed to ‘mop up’ the bile secreted during digestion and prevent its absorption in the small intestine.

The study further suggested that oat fiber beta glucans actually lower, instead of just maintain, the total level of circulating bile in the body.

At the heart of health

Added to the diets of pigs, study results found beta-glucans led to decreases of 24% in blood total bile acids, 34% in total cholesterol and 57% in LDL cholesterol.

“We aren’t quite sure yet why, but in the presence of beta glucan, there is much less circulating bile. This means that fats, which bile helps break down, are not digested as rapidly or as completely,”​ reported lead researcher Dr Purnima Gunness.

A lower or slower absorption of fat is an important factor in reducing blood cholesterol.

A bowl of beta glucans for breakfast

Funded by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls, the discovery could pave the way to various approaches in enhancing the cholesterol-fighting properties of other cereals, including wheat.

This could give breakfast cereal manufacturers a boost, as it is aligned to the trend towards healthy consumption by consumers. 

The discovery is also timely to elevate the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition, proclaimed in April 2016.

The World Health Organisation reported that diets based on highly processed “denatured” foods contribute to non-communicable diseases, responsible for almost 70% of all deaths worldwide.

Cereals, such as oats, could provide a cheaper form of nutrition for much of the world’s population.

According to Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, malnutrition is universal, not only seen in developing countries,

In her report to the United Nations General Assembly, she pointed a finger at today’s dominating industrial food processing systems that are producing longer shelf-life, yet nutrient-poor products.

She also contended that access to nutritious food is often a key indicator of socioeconomic inequality, asserting that for people who have no financial power, chips are often cheaper than an apple.

Source:The FASEB Journal​, 2016; 309(12): 4227.
DOI: 10.1096/fj.201600465R[ON4]​ 

Reduction in circulating bile acid and restricted diffusion across the intestinal epithelium are associated with a decrease in blood cholesterol in the presence of oat –glucan’

Authors: P. Gunness, J. Michiels, L. Vanhaecke, S. De Smet, O. Kravchuk, A. Van de Meene and M. J. Gidley.

Related topics Research

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