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Back To Vidyya Eat More Oatmeal

Women Can Do Themselves A Favor By Having Oats For Breakfast

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, she says.

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 nine percent.

"That's pretty remarkable," says Van Horn. "With very little effort or expense attention to diet can significantly and rapidly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease."

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 producing company.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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