(NaturalHealth365) Heart disease is currently the No. 1 killer of men and women in the country, claiming the lives of over 600,000 people annually. Yet the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that as many as 200,000 of these deaths are entirely preventable through simple changes in lifestyle – including adopting a healthy diet to boost immunity and reduce the threat of free radicals.
Eating a bowl of organic oatmeal can help you accomplish just that.
Since ancient times, oats – a cereal grain scientifically known as Avena sativa – have been consumed as both a medicine and a food. Early natural healers prescribed oats to treat rheumatism, depression and neuritis; externally, oats were used to soothe itchy, inflamed skin.
Today, thanks to earlier studies, many perceive oatmeal as a healthful food, one that can be good for lowering excess cholesterol. But emerging scientific research shows that oatmeal’s beneficial properties are more far-ranging and dramatic than previously thought.
Oatmeal is looking better and better
In a new study published in the March, 2014 issue of Nutrition Journal, oatmeal increased antioxidant protection and decreased inflammation in older women post-exercise. As chronic system inflammation is linked to the development of heart disease and cancer, the implications of this study are truly far-reaching.
The researchers chose post-menopausal women as subjects for the study in part because of the association between aging and inflammation, and also because an age-related lack of estrogen can contribute to oxidative stress – which triggers atherosclerosis and heart disease. By measuring inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein, the team found that oatmeal extracts had pronounced anti-inflammatory effects, while causing no adverse effects.
Unlike other methods of treatment, oatmeal extracts delivered benefits without any drawbacks.
The team noted that while non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also reduce post-exercise inflammation, they can interfere with the body’s normal healing process. By the same token, large doses of antioxidants may negate any beneficial effects the exercise session produced in the first place. Oatmeal extracts, however, demonstrated neither of these disadvantages.
Can oatmeal outperform statin drugs?
Eating one bowl of oatmeal, per day, doesn’t just lower your cholesterol; it can slash it – in some studies, by as much 23 percent. The World’s Healthiest Foods, a non-profit informational website, cites studies in which daily consumption of oatmeal dramatically lowered serum LDL cholesterol. Decreasing LDL cholesterol helps to reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries, which in turn cuts the risk of a sudden breaking off of large chunks of plaque – a common cause of strokes, blood clots and heart attacks.
Researchers attribute oatmeal’s cholesterol-lowering properties to its high content of beta-glucans, a specific type of fiber. But, in addition to beta-glucans, oatmeal has yet another powerful natural substance that prevents heart disease – one that is found nowhere else on the planet.
A group of antioxidant phytochemicals known as avenanthramides are unique to oats, and exist in 40 different varieties. In the exercise study published in Nutrition Journal, researchers credited avenanthramides with the ability to suppress production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Wouldn’t it be nice if every cardiologist read this study?
Have there been any other studies on oatmeal?
In addition to the recent research, abundant earlier studies support oatmeal’s beneficial effects. In a study published in 2004 in Atherosclerosis, researchers found that Avena sativa extracts helped to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol by free radicals, while suppressing the production of adhesion molecules.
In a laboratory study published in 2009 in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the research team credited Avena sativa with antioxidant and antigenotoxic effects – meaning it protects against damage to cell DNA.
I’m on a gluten-free diet – can I eat oatmeal?
There is currently controversy over whether oats should be included in gluten-free diets. Technically speaking, oatmeal is not wheat – the substance usually responsible for food reactions. Wheat-free oat products are often well-tolerated by people with celiac disease, and may actually have a therapeutic effect. However, only a doctor knowledgeable about your condition should advise you on whether to consume oats or not.
Oatmeal is an excellent source of fiber and essential minerals.
Because oatmeal retains its natural germ and bran, it has a low glycemic index, and is a great source of dietary fiber. It is also an excellent source of manganese – used by the body to make superoxide dismutase, a natural antioxidant – and is rich in tocopherols, a natural form of antioxidant vitamin E. In addition, oatmeal is a good source of zinc, needed for a healthy immune system, and magnesium, which helps to regulate blood pressure.
High levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids contribute to oatmeal’s proven cholesterol-lowering effects. Just keep in mind, despite what conventional cardiology may say, cholesterol is not all bad and certainly necessary for optimal health.
What’s the best way to prepare and eat oats?
Oat products are available in many forms. In addition to rolled and steel-cut oats, which may be cooked into oatmeal, you can try oat groats – the unflattened kernels – and oat bran, a natural constituent of oats that is also available as a separate product.
Naturally, you should avoid prepared, pre-packaged and “instant” oatmeal products; not only do they contain less fiber, vitamins and minerals, but they are often loaded with salt, sugar and additives. Look for steel-cut oats, which contain maximum fiber and nutrients, and store them in an airtight container in a dark, cool place.
Organic pecans, fresh peaches, apples and berries, cinnamon, dark honey, bananas and raisins are only a small sampling of the beneficial foods that can be paired with oatmeal to enhance its taste and texture. As a superfood, oatmeal doesn’t ever get the respect it deserves.
Unlike carrots and pumpkin, it doesn’t advertise its healthy carotenoids and flavonoids with brilliant coloration; unlike rhodiola root from Arctic regions or cordyceps from Tibet, it doesn’t hail from exotic locales. But, when it comes to the important matter of prolonging life and preventing disease, this humble grain can perform every bit as well as its flashier counterparts.
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