When blood cells stick to artery walls and cause inflammation, plaque deposits build up and narrow the passageways through which blood flows. But the oat antioxidants, called avenanthramides, can suppress this plaque, in turn lessening the gradual constriction of vessels that leads to hardening of the arteries.
The study was carried out by nutritionist Mohsen Meydani and colleagues at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston. The research was funded by the Agricultural Research Service, part of the US Department of Agriculture.
To test the compound's anti-degenerative activity within arterial walls, the scientists purified avenanthramides from oats and exposed them to human arterial wall cells for 24 hours. They then observed the mixture under incubation. Meydani found that the ability of blood cells to stick to arterial wall cells was significantly reduced.
Water-soluble fibre from oats has long been believed to help reduce the amount of LDL (or 'bad') cholesterol circulating in blood. To gain heart-healthy benefits from fibre and avenanthramides, the researchers suggest adding oat products as part of an overall healthy diet and cutting down on high-fat, high-cholesterol foods.
As a grain, oats are included in enriched cereals and breads, in oatmeal as rolled oats, and in muffins and other baked goods as oat bran.