Eating more oats can help reduce the risk of heart disease

By Jane Lewis
A large meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials has found that oat β-glucan – a soluble fibre found in oats – has a cholesterol-lowering effect, and the inclusion of oat-containing foods may be a strategy for achieving targets in cardiovascular disease (CVD) reduction.

The authors claim that the study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, is the first of its kind to examine evidence of the effect of oat β-glucan not only on LDL-cholesterol, but also on non-HDL-cholesterol (total cholesterol minus HDL) and apolipoprotein B (apoB).

These are ‘more highly associated’ with CVD risk than LDL-cholesterol, and are ‘especially important in adults with the metabolic syndrome and/or diabetes,’ which are not typically elevated in this population, they suggest.

A total of 58 studies involving 3974 participants were included in the meta-analysis, which found that a median dose of 3.5 g/day of oat β-glucan significantly lowered LDL-cholesterol by 0.19 mmol/L, non-HDL-cholesterol by 0.20 mmol/L and apoB by 0.03 g/L compared with control interventions. However, there was ‘considerable unexplained heterogeneity’ in the analysis of LDL-cholesterol and non-HDL-cholesterol, the authors reported.

‘In conclusion, this systematic review and meta-analysis supports the dose-dependent intake of oat β-glucan for the reduction of LDL-C, non-HDL-C and apoB in middle-aged participants,’ they stated.

‘These investigators have performed a huge amount of work and demonstrated what we already knew… that oat bran has a very modest effect on cholesterol,’ Associate Professor Leon Simons, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of NSW, and Director of the Lipid Department at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, told Medicine Today. ‘Such a small reduction at the population level might reduce CVD risk a little,’ he said; however, ‘at the individual patient level, the impact might be lost in “noise”.’ 

‘While I see no harm in recommending oat bran to patients, one could not rely on its use to solve any significant metabolic problems,’ he advised.
Br J Nutr 2016; doi:10.1017/S000711451600341X.

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