Women can do themselves a favour by having oats for breakfast,
says Linda Van Horn, professor of preventive medicine at
Northwestern University Medical School, especially during
menopause. That is a time when many women experience increases
in their blood cholesterol levels. In addition to a diet
reduced in saturated fat and cholesterol, oats are a natural,
inexpensive, way to help unclog cholesterol-laden arteries,
Van Horn has completed a study of
125 postmenopausal women with dangerously high blood levels
of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia).
After the first three weeks on a fat modified diet women
reduced their blood cholesterol by an average of 12.5 mg
per deciliter (mg/dL). When two servings (1 and one half
cups) of oats were added to the fat modified diet of women
randomly assigned to either oats and/or soy or a wheat placebo
diet (control), the LDL cholesterol levels in these women
dropped by another 8-9 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
on top of the 12 mg per deciliter reduced by following the
low fat over the next six weeks. Overall, in nine weeks,
these women reduced their blood cholesterol by approximately
"That's pretty remarkable," says
Van Horn. "With very little effort or expense attention
to diet can significantly and rapidly reduce the risk of
The purpose of the study was to evaluate whether oats plus
25 gm soy protein daily would work together synergistically
to further improve the cholesterol lowering achieved with
the fat modified diet alone. Both oats and soy have been
reported to help lower LDL-cholesterol, but no previous
studies have tried to compare and or combine their effects.
In this study, only the oats appeared to produce a cholesterol
lowering benefit. Not that Van Horn has rejected the potential
benefits of soy. She thinks either the dose was too small
or adherence to soy was less consistent than the impact
of the oats. North Americans generally find soy products
less palatable than in Asian countries where it serves as
a major source of protein in the diet.
The study, she says, also conveys
a warning to menopausal and postmenopausal women. "I find
it alarming that these hyperlipidemic women were walking
around with cholesterol levels above the 250mg/dL range,
totally oblivious to it and not having been previously counseled
to dietary modifications.
In the year 2000 with
so much scientific evidence that elevated blood cholesterol
places a woman at very high risk of cardiovascular disease,
that's really disturbing." If you are menopausal or postmenopausal
you should have your cholesterol checked and risk for cardiovascular
disease assessed, she advises.
Some of the women on the study were
on hormone replacement therapy and under the impression
that they were protected from high blood cholesterol levels.
"That's obviously not the case," says Van Horn.
A total of 125 women were involved
in the study.
According to Rose Marie Robertson, M.D., president-elect
of the American Heart Association, "This presentation points
to a central issue, which is that there many women who are
at risk of heart disease because of elevated cholesterol,
but who don't know it. The good news is that there are
many ways to lower the risk, ranging from diet and lifestyle
changes to highly effective and simple-to-take medications."
All women followed the American Heart Association
Step 1 diet first for three weeks. Then they were randomized
to one of four dietary treatments for an additional six
weeks. Group 1 received 1 and a half cups of oats plus milk
protein. Group 2 received 25 gm soy plus 1 and a half cups
of wheat cereal (as a control product for the oats). Group
3 received oats plus soy. And the control Group 4 received
wheat cereal and milk protein. Only the oat containing diets,
with or without, soy showed LDL further cholesterol reduction.
"The women ate the oats any they wanted, both cooked or
ready to eat versions were available. Most women found it
easiest to eat a bowl of oat cereal for breakfast and then
have the ready to eat oat cereal as a snack later in the
day. They felt very satisfied and had no trouble controlling
their weight during this period," she added.
The study was supported by the Quaker
Oats Company and Protein Technologies International, a soy