A new solution to an old problem; high-fiber, low-fat oat bran lowers cholesterol levels at a fraction of the cost of drugs

Oat bran: a new solution to an old problem; high-fiber, low-fat oat bran lowers cholesterol levels at a fraction of the cost of drugs

Frank Murray

Oat Bran: A New Solution To an Old Problem

High-fiber, low-fat oat bran lowers cholesterol levels at a fraction of the cost of drugs.

More than 25 years have passed since the first landmark study showing the cholesterol-lowering effects of oat bran, but only in recent months has the public responded in any large-scale way to the news about this amazing fiber.

In the Lancet in 1963, A.P. De Groot and colleagues reported that laboratory animals given rolled oats instead of wheat starch were found to have lower cholesterol levels. Since then, numerous human and animal studies have found that both oat bran and oatmeal can reduce serum cholesterol, the accumulation of which is implicated in many types of cardiovascular disease.

Although the term “dietary fiber” often is used ambiguously, it actually refers to various plant foods that cannot be digested. They do not contain cholesterol, which occurs only in foods of animal origin or is produced inside the body. Dietary fiber is classified as either water-soluble or water-insoluble.

Insoluble fibers include cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, according to Oat Meals!. Insoluble fibers quicken the movement of food through the digestive tract, promoting regularity. Foods high in insoluble fiber include wholewheat bread, wheat bran cereal, peas and pears.

Soluble fibers include pectin, gum (including the beta-glucan in oats) and mucilage. Rolled oats, oat bran, some dry beans and legumes, barley, apples, tangerines and plums are good food sources of soluble fiber.

Studies show that soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol levels and reduce insulin needs in some diabetics. Both rolled oats and oat bran contain large portions of soluble fiber and have been found to help reduce cholesterol.

Whole-grain oats contain the bran or outer coating of the grain, the endosperm and the germ, which is responsible for producing a new plant. Oat bran, of course, is a very concentrated form of fiber.

A 1-ounce serving contains 6 grams of protein, 17 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fat, 120 calories, 150 milligrams (mg) of potassium and less than 10 mg of sodium. This same amount contains 20 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin B1, 15 percent for phosphorus and eight percent for iron.

James W. Anderson, M.D., has done fiber studies at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. “The studies we’ve done have taken people on typical Western diets of 39 percent fat, 43 percent carbohydrates, 18 percent protein and 450 mg of cholesterol per day. We fed them oat bran and found that oat bran lowered cholesterol by 19 percent. We’ve reported two different studies and our results have been confirmed by other people.”

According to Medical Tribune, other researchers have found that a six- to eight-week diet of 1 1/2 to 3 ounces of oat bran per day can lower total cholesterol by 20 percent and low-density lipoproteins (LDL, the “bad” cholesterol) by as much as 25 percent.

Whether oat bran works by binding to cholesterol-rich bile acids and removing LDLs from the bloodstream, or by some other mechanism, is not yet known but empirical evidence suggests it does work, according to Anderson’s report in the Medical Tribune.

A study by K.V. Cold and D.M. Davidson appeared in the Western Journal of Medicine confirming “the cholesterol-lowering properties of oat bran as a dietary adjunct in a young, healthy population.”

To lower cholesterol levels, oat bran must be eaten daily, according to a report in The New York Times.

“The oat bran needs to be in your system every day along with the cholesterol if you want to get the maximum lowering effect,” Mary Kay Ebzery, a registered dietition at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center, Tufts-New England Medical Center, Boston, told the Times. “Studies have shown the more significant lowering of cholesterol — up to 15 percent — comes when 100 grams of oat bran are consumed every day. That is approximately equal to one-third of a cup of oat bran eaten twice a day.”

Oat bran, like all cholesterol-lowering agents, is most effective when it is consumed in conjunction with a low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-fiber diet.

Susan Male Smith, a contributing editor to Environmental Nutrition, said in another Times report that many of the oat bran studies have involved patients with high elevated serum cholesterol levels of 250 milligrams (mg) or more. The ideal count is 200 or below.

“Eating enough oat bran to reduce the cholesterol level does not mean eating one oat bran muffin for breakfast; it means eating a serving of oat bran cereal each day — plus five oat bran muffins. Every day,” she said.

Even if oat bran does help, there is only so much it can do. Five oat bran muffins and a serving of oat bran cereal a day cannot cancel out the fat and cholesterol in a steady diet of prime steaks and french fries, fettucine Alfredo and chocolate sundaes, according to the Times report.

In a study involving 208 volunteers, conducted by Linda V. Van Horn, Ph.D., R.D., and colleagues at Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago and reported in Journal of the American Dietetic Association, cholesterol levels dropped an average of 5.2 percent in the group eating oat bran or oatmeal.

“Since recent data indicate that every one-percent fall in the level of serum cholesterol leads to as much as a two-percent fall in the incidence of first major coronary events, it is appropriate as part of the national effort to lower population serum cholesterol levels … as emphasized in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the department of Health and Human Services,” the researchers concluded.

In the double-blind study, which involved men and women aged 30 to 65, one group consumed two servings of either oat bran or oatmeal — about 60 grams — daily. The control group received no oat products. The study lasted for 12 weeks.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported a study by Bruce P. Knosian, M.D., and John M. Eisenberg, M.D., who determined that oat bran as a daily addition to the diet is less expensive than drug therapy for treating high blood cholesterol.

The study analyzed the cost-effectiveness of treating individuals with high cholesterol levels (over 265 mg/dl) by comparing three cholesterol-lowering agents: oat bran, cholestyramine resin and colestipol.

The study, which was designed to compare the costs of using these three agents to lower blood cholesterol estimated that cholesterol reduction with oat bran cost $249 per year; cholestyramine resin cost $1,442 annually; and colestipol, $879 including medical supervision in each case.

Therefore, said Dr. Kinosian, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, “a broad public health approach to lowered cholesterol levels by additional dietary modification such as with soluble fiber, may be preferred to a medically oriented campaign that focuses on drug therapy.”

Oat bran and oatmeal, available in various forms from your health food store, not only make a delicious cereal, but also can be used in a variety of recipes.

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