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Benefits of Eating Oat Bran Vary

March 22, 1990|JEAN CARPER | Carper is a medical and nutrition writer and the author of 15 books, including "The Food Pharmacy."

Oat bran can lower cholesterol, declares a new study from Syracuse University. But how well it works varies among individuals, says researcher Dr. Wendy Demark-Wahnefried.

Her study of 71 men and women with high cholesterol found that a low-fat diet as well as 1.7 ounces a day of ordinary oat bran or 1.5 daily ounces of Quaker's cold oat-bran cereal all reduced cholesterol about the same--an average 10% to 17%.

Much, but not all, of the decrease from oats may have come from substituting oat bran for fat in the diet, she said.

In some individuals, oat bran made an enormous difference, driving cholesterol down 80 to 100 points. So did a low-fat diet. But in others, neither regimen worked. For example, 27% on the low-fat diet and 33% on plain oat bran still had cholesterol higher than 90% of Americans their age.

Further, both diets depressed good-type HDL cholesterol, thought to help prevent heart disease.

The message, says Demark-Wahnefried, is that oat bran is not, as many people think, a universal cholesterol cure-all, but neither is a low-fat diet. Nevertheless, both work in many cases. "If it works for you, use it," she advises.

It's looking better than ever that olive oil can lower both systolic (higher number) and diastolic blood pressure. Scientists think olive oil works because most of its fat is from monounsaturated-type fatty acids that are chemically unique.

At Stanford Medical School a few years ago, a study of 76 middle-aged men with high blood pressure concluded that the amount of monounsaturated fat in three tablespoons of olive oil a day could be expected to lower systolic pressure about nine points and diastolic six points.

In a recent Dutch study, eating high amounts of olive oil drove blood pressure down slightly even in those with normal blood pressure.

The latest such evidence: A major analysis of the diets of nearly 5,000 Italians noted that those who ate the most olive oil had lower blood pressure by three or four points, especially men.

The study also suggested, as do others, that cutting down on saturated-type animal and dairy fat may also depress blood pressure. For example, among the 5,000 Italians, those who ate lots of butter had higher blood pressure.

There's some scary news from animal labs suggesting that pregnant women who eat high-fat diets might pass on a greater risk of cancer to their daughters.

Dr. Bruce E. Walker, at Michigan State University in East Lansing, reared female mice from sexual maturity on diets varying in fat from 6% of calories to 49%. Then he observed their offspring.

Fully half the daughters of mice that ate high-fat diets developed cancers of the breast, ovary, uterus and pituitary gland. This was five times the expected rate.

Furthermore, to Walker's surprise, such female offspring were much more apt to develop reproductive cancers than mice whose mothers had been given the drug DES during pregnancy. DES is a well-known cancer-inducer in female offspring.

Perhaps, theorizes Walker, the high-fat diet meddles with the growing fetus' hypothalamus, setting the stage for the release of hormones later in life that promote such cancers. Walker sees "no justification for high-fat diets during pregnancy."

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