Eating porridge cuts risk of heart disease, study claims

Consumption of oats lowered blood cholesterol in mice and helped keep weight down

Scientists in Cork have claimed their research shows that gut microbes play a role in heart health.

The scientists at the APC Microbiome Institute also said they found that porridge should be regularly consumed to get the benefits of oat beta–glucan for heart and gut health.

The study, published on Monday, found that consumption of oat beta–glucan (a soluble form of fibre that dissolves inside the digestive tract) not only lowered blood cholesterol in mice, it also helped keep body weight down and benefited the gut microbiota, the community of microbes living in the intestines.

Oat beta–glucan altered both the composition and functionality of the gut microbiota. The level of butyrate, a type of fatty acid produced by gut bacteria which has been previously shown to protect against diet-induced obesity in mice, was elevated in this study.


Oat beta–glucan also acted as a prebiotic, and increased bacteria in the gut which are being explored by others to treat obesity.

Plant sterol esters, which were also tested in the study, were found to be the most effective in lowering blood cholesterol and helping to avoid plaque build-up.

However, they caused the greatest weight and adiposity gains and adversely affected the gut microbiota composition of the mice.

“These results show we need to consider effects on the microbiome when treating cardiovascular disease through either food or medication” said Prof Catherine Stanton, leader of the research at the APC Microbiome Institute and Teagasc Food Research Centre, Moorepark, Co Cork.

“The message is to take porridge regularly to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease whilst also protecting your gut microbiota.”

On its website, the centre lists a number of large food companies among its partners, including Kerry Foods, Danone and General Mills.

Cardiovascular disease is currently responsible for approximately 30 per cent of deaths annually across the globe. Diet and exercise are known interventions to prevent or slow down the development of atherosclerosis but it has become evident that our gut bacteria also contribute.

Prof Noel Caplice of the Centre for Research in Vascular Biology at UCC says the study shows that certain foods may facilitate weight loss as well as encouraging growth of beneficial microbes in our intestines.

“Understanding this balance between food, gut bacteria and health may have implications for development of a range of new food and therapeutic products targeting cardiovascular disease, the principal cause of death in men and women in the developed world,” he said.