Original Research

Oat Ingestion Reduces Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressure in Patients with Mild or Borderline Hypertension: A Pilot Trial

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OBJECTIVES: We assessed the short-term antihypertensive effects of soluble fiber-rich whole oat cereals when added to a standard American diet. In addition, multiple assessments of insulin sensitivity were conducted.

STUDY DESIGN: This was a randomized, controlled, parallel-group pilot study designed to compare an oat cereal group (standardized to 5.52 g/day beta-glucan) to a low-fiber cereal control group (less than 1.0 g/day total fiber) over 6 weeks.

POPULATION: A total of 18 hypertensive and hyperinsulinemic ( ≥10 μU/mL) men and women completed the trial.

OUTCOMES MEASURED: Primary study outcomes were changes in systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP). Secondary outcomes included blood lipid, fasting glucose, and insulin levels and side effects related to elevated blood pressure and increased dietary fiber intake.

RESULTS: The oat cereal group experienced a 7.5 mm Hg reduction in SBP (P < .01) and a 5.5 mm Hg reduction in DBP (P < .02), while there was virtually no change in either SBP or DBP in the control group. In the oat cereal group, a trend was observed for a lower total insulin response to a glucose load, suggesting improved insulin sensitivity. However, this could not be confirmed using estimates from the Bergman Minimal Model, perhaps because of our small sample size. As expected and reported in previous trials, the oats group experienced a significant reduction in both total cholesterol (9%) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (14%).

CONCLUSIONS: The addition of oat cereals to the normal diet of persons with hypertension significantly reduces both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Soluble fiber-rich whole oats may be an effective dietary therapy in the prevention and adjunct treatment of hypertension.

Interest is growing in the use of nonpharmacologic methods for the prevention and management of hypertension. Specifically, the effect of dietary fiber on the incidence and treatment of hypertension has been explored. Epidemiologic studies show that the amount of dietary fiber ingested is inversely related to the incidence of hypertension as well as to systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) in both hypertensive and normotensive patients.1–5 The results obtained from clinical trials, however, are inconsistent; some report modest blood pressure reductions after increased fiber intake,6–12 while others fail to demonstrate any effect of dietary fiber on blood pressure.13–16 Some animal trials17,18 and human trials19,20 have shown a consistent lowering of blood pressure upon consumption of larger amounts of soluble fiber, suggesting that the antihypertensive effects of fiber may be caused by the soluble fraction and that these effects may be contingent upon the intake of a sufficiently large quantity.

Hypertension often occurs in association with obesity, impaired glucose tolerance, and dyslipidemia. Hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance are thought to be key pathogenic links among these disturbances.21–23 Studies show that soluble fiber from oats reduces both postprandial blood glucose and insulin levels.24–27 Therefore, we conducted the following pilot trial to investigate the antihypertensive and insulin-modifying effects of oat cereal supplementation in a population of mild and borderline hyperinsulinemic and hypertensive men and women.


Study protocol

The study participants in this 6-week, randomized, parallel-group, active-controlled pilot trial were recruited by means of local community screenings and mass media advertising. The study protocol was reviewed and approved by the University of Minnesota Institutional Review Board. All participants provided informed consent before official enrollment in the study. One hundred nine men and women aged 20 to 70 were screened for eligibility with a physical exam, medical history, and chemistry and lipid profile (see Table 1 for exclusion criteria). Only generally healthy, untreated hypertensives with average SBP of 130 to 160 mm Hg and DBP of 85 to 100 mm Hg and with at least 1 reading greater than 140/90 as well as moderately elevated levels of fasting insulin (≥10μU/mL) were considered for enrollment. Participants were determined to be eligible only after 2 sets of hypertensive (SBP > 130, DBP > 85) baseline blood pressure readings had been taken 7 days apart and only if all inclusion criteria were fulfilled.

Ultimately, 22 men and women were randomized to either an oat cereal treatment group (standardized to 5.52 g/day beta-glucan) or a low fiber cereal control group (<1 g/day total fiber). Four of these individuals (1 in the treatment and 3 in the control group) discontinued participation because of time constraints. Eighteen healthy, nonsmoking men and women aged 27 to 59 years (44 ± 18; mean, SD) completed the trial. Cereal treatments were isocaloric. Participants were instructed to consume all their cereal (treatment, 137 g; control, 146 g) daily for the next 6 weeks but were allowed to prepare and consume the cereal however and whenever they wished.

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