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Feeling better with oats.

Oat bran--until recently a long-forgotten outcast of the American diet--is making a comeback in the wake of increasing scientific evidence that those who eat it have lower levels of cholesterol--which lessens their risk of heart attacks--and greater protection from a wide range of health problems.

First linked to cholesterol reduction in the mid-1970s by Dr. James Anderson of the University of Kentucky Medical College, oat bran has emerged in study after study as a near "wonder grain" in the treatment of diabetes. It likewise has been linked to protection from high blood pressure, cancer and heart attacks.

The most recent of those studies was carried out at the Massachussets Institute of Technology by Dr. Kenneth J. Storch. Dr. Storch, in an experiment using healthy MIT students, was able to show that when oat bran is added to the diet, cholesterol levels drop by about 5 percent.

"This finding is significant, in that such a drop in the cholesterol level means a 10 percent drop in the chances of a person having a heart attack," Dr. Storch said. His study supports work already done by Dr. Anderson among diabetics with elevated cholesterol levels. Similar and even more striking results in cholesterol reduction were found among these patients.

Dr. Storch's research is the first using oat bran to reduce cholesterol levels among healthy subjects. (Cholesterol is the largest single risk factor in heart attacks.) In Dr. Storch's study, students with normal cholesterol levels were divided into two groups. Members of one group were each fed four wheat-bran muffins a day, and members of the other were each fed four oat-bran muffins. Each muffin contained 13 grams of the respective brans. Other than eating the muffins, students maintained normal diets.

As expected from the results of previous studies, those who ate the wheat-bran muffins showed no decrease in their levels of serum cholesterol. On the other hand, the students who ate the oat-bran muffins showed a consistent decrease in cholesterol immediately and a total reduction of 5 percent within two weeks.

Dr. Anderson, visiting the MIT Clinical Research Center in 1983, inspired Dr. Storch to do the study. Dr. Anderson calls the findings a "meaningful and important" addition to the growing body of data that indicates "Americans must eat more oat fiber" to head off a variety of health problems.

A major concern from the beginning of Dr. Anderson's research has been a lack of availability of, first, oat bran and then oat-bran products. In fact, 12 years ago, when Dr. Anderson first began experimenting with oat bran as a treatment for diabetes, the product simply was not available anywhere on the commercial market. The bran--the fibrous outer covering of the oat--was routinely removed by oat-processing companies and discarded or sold to be fed to livestock.

When Dr. Anderson realized bran's value and computed that 100 grams of oat bran would provide the same amount of cholesterol-lowering protection as six bowls of oatmeal, he set out to talk the Quaker Oats company into making the product available to the general public. (The Quaker company had cooperated earlier in providing Dr. Anderson with oat bran for his experiments.) He convinced Quaker executives not only of the health value of oat bran but of its potential as a salable product for the corporation. At the same time, the Saturday Evening Post Society began promoting Dr. Anderson's concept. Quaker cooperated by sending oat bran packaged in plain polyethylene bags to the Society for experimental use developing recipes using the fiber. Society members tested the recipes.

The historic result was the appearance in 1982 of "Mother's Oat Bran" hot-cereal mix and Quaker Oat Bran on grocery and health-food-store shelves from coast to coast. The Post then urged members of the Society to buy the oat bran in order to encourage Quaker to keep manufacturing it.

Dr. Anderson--now established as "the father of oat bran"--next turned his attention to developing products that would make prepared products that would make prepared products containing oat bran available to the general public. He has made oat-bran muffins, cookies--and recently, oat-bran crackers.

"The importance of such products is to get oat fiber into the diets of Americans in a way which is convenient," Dr. Anderson said. "Many people eat oatmeal--which is good--but people have to eat much more oatmeal than they do oat bran to get the same protection. With bran muffins, cookies and crackers, a person can eat more concentrated oat fiber, and with less caloric intake."

Dr. Anderson and Dr. Cory SerVaas, the editor and publisher of The Saturday Evening Post, are working together to popularize these new products.

Dr. Anderson says the only problem in the experiments he has done with the new products so far has been that the cookies "just seem to disappear" from the shelves of his laboratory kitchen.

"We are pleased at how much people seem to like the cookies," Dr. Anderson said. "The crackers also have been accepted well. Sixteen crackers provide about 300 calories along with enough oat bran to effectively reduce a person's blood cholesterol. We think most people, throughout the day, would have no trouble at all eating 16 small crackers. It's an excellent snack food."

He points out, however, that a person can take in an adequate supply of oat bran in many other ways. He says some people simply sprinkle the oat bran on their food. Others eat it as a hot cereal, either with fruit or plain. Dr. SerVaas recommends mixing it in a blender with fruit and milk to make a slurry. Such blending does nothing to destroy the effect of the fiber, Dr. Anderson says.

Although undoubtedly not all the health benefits derived from oat fiber are known at this time, the results of past research make it clear that the "wonder grain" has multiple potentials for better health. Among those already known are the following:

--It reduces and sometimes eliminates insulin requirements for diabetics. This benefit was Dr. Anderson's original finding on oat bran and other fiber foods. His experiments have shown that many people with adult-onset diabetes, when placed on high-fiber diets, can reduce their insulin dosages, and some have been able to eliminate the insulin treatments altogether.

"We recently saw a 60-year-old man with diabetes," Dr. Anderson said. "He had taken insulin for ten years--a large dose--and he was overweight. We started treating him with a high-fiber diet and encouraged him to exercise regularly. With that, we were able to reduce his insulin dosage from 65 units to 0. We stopped his insulin last September, and he has gone almost a year with no insulin and excellent control of his diabetes."

He said oat bran is the fiber food of preference in the treatment of diabetes because it is a water-soluble fiber, as opposed to insoluble-fiber foods such as wheat bran. He said that in addition to lowering the cholesterol with such water-soluble fibers, this type of fiber "smooths out" the blood-sugar levels and keeps diabetics from getting their blood-sugar levels elevated.

--Oat bran, as a high-fiber food, helps prevent heart disease. Dr. Anderson points out that the research evidence is overwhelming that high-fiber diets, along with reduced eating of fats and more consumption of starches, reduces the risk of heart attacks. He says this benefit is particularly true among diabetics, among whom the incidence of heart attacks is even greater than among the general population.

--Oat bran, as a soluble fiber, fights arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). This improvement results from decreasing the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

Dr. Anderson says decreased cholesterol is possible because oat bran maintains or even increases the amount of high-density lipids (HDL) in the blood--the "good guys" of serum cholesterol, in contrast to the low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the "bad guys." Not only do the oat-bran HDLs not collect on the artery walls and cause trouble the way the LDLs do, but they actually serve as scavengers, picking up the "bad guys" and removing them.

--Oat bran, along with other fiber food, both soluble and insoluble, protects against cancer of the digestive tract and the rectum. Such benefits, of course, are both well-documented and widely known. Bulk provided by the fiber causes water retention in the feces and results in more frequent and higher-volume bowel movements. High-fiber diets reduce the incidence of both cancer and diverticulosis. There likewise is strong evidence that high-fiber diets guard against many other health problems related to the gastrointestinal tract. For instance, evidence indicates that populations on high-fiber diets have less appendicitis and fewer hemorrhoids and gallstone. These findings were further supported by studies conducted in England in recent years by Dr. Kenneth Heaton.

--High fiber intakes appear to protect against or to reduce the frequency of high blood pressure. Dr. Anderson says his studies show that when a person with diabetes is treated with a high-fiber diet, the person's blood pressure decreases by about 10 percent. He said other experiments have shown that when people treated for high blood pressure are placed on diets high in fiber and oat bran, blood pressure is reduced significantly.
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Author:Herron, Bud
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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