New study shows that oats may help combat inflammation

LiLi1A new study published in the Nutrition Journal found that the polyphenols in oats, called avenanthramides (AVE), slowed the inflammatory response to strenuous exercise and increased antioxidant defenses in women over 50. The link between inflammation and aging is a growing concern in the scientific community because of its association with the development of chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid and atherosclerosis. According to the study’s authors from the University of Minnesota  and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, strategies to help prevent or reduce inflammation are a key priority for the aging population.

In addition to the development of chronic disease, inflammation can cause oxidative stress and muscle pain that can lead to underperformance and exercise avoidance. Lead researcher from the U of M’s Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene and Exercise Science Li Li Ji, Ph.D., explained that, “whether the inflammation is provoked by aging or exercise, it can have a negative impact on health over time. Therefore, we wanted to investigate the effects of a naturally occurring food compound with known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.”

Previous research shows that oat AVEs are a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory and anti-atherogenic properties. Researchers in the new study enrolled post-menopausal women age 50-80 in a double-blind study to test whether eight weeks of consuming cookies made with AVE-containing oat flour would affect their response to an acute bout of downhill running. Women were divided into two groups: the treatment group consumed two high-AVE oat cookies per day (4.6 mg AVE/oat cookie – the amount equivalent to two pouches of instant oatmeal); the control group ate two oat cookies of equal nutritive and caloric value containing 0.2 mg AVE/oat cookie. Both groups ate one oat cookie in the morning and one in the evening for eight weeks. Before and after the dietary treatment, the women subjects performed the downhill running test.  During both exercise trials, the women were challenged to perform four sessions of 15 minutes of treadmill walking on a 9 percent grade with five-minute rest periods between each session.

Post-exercise inflammation was suppressed and antioxidant activity was higher in the group that received the high-AVE oat cookies. After the eight weeks of supplementation, neutrophil respiratory burst (NRB) – a marker of inflammation –was significantly less at 24 hours post-exercise in the high-AVE oat cookie group.  Additional markers of inflammation were also reduced: plasma C-reactive protein (CRP) was lower at 48 hours post-exercise; plasma interleukin (IL)-1β concentration and mononuclear cell nuclear factor (NF) κB binding were suppressed at rest and post-exercise.  Total antioxidant capacity in the blood was higher in the high-AVE oat group compared to the low-AVE oat group, suggesting that the women experienced a boost in antioxidant protection from the high-AVE oat cookies in addition to the anti-inflammatory response.

“While more research is warranted, the current study indicates that commonly consumed, healthy foods, such as oats, may offer simple but powerful protection,” said Ji, director of the School of Kinesiology. “Our data showed that the amount of AVEs found in approximately two servings of instant oatmeal containing high AVE may help prevent inflammation associated with exercise and perhaps, aging and chronic disease.”

This study was supported by a grant from the University of Wisconsin Foundation.  See the journal article.