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Gut health… and the benefits of oats

oats peanut butter

Want to be the healthiest version of yourself? Then make friends with your gut… and learn how to treat it well! 

The health of our gut (and our gut microbes) can influence pretty much every other system and organ in our body. 

For starters, we know the gut is closely linked to the immune system, partly because around 80% of our immune tissue is found in and around the gut wall. Poor gut health is thought to be a factor in allergies and autoimmune conditions – indications that the immune system is out of balance.

There’s been loads of research on the gut–brainconnection too. The two are directly connected via a nerve called the vagus nerve, and as well as our brain affecting our gut (think about butterflies in your tummy when you’re feeling nervous), it’s thought that messages from the gut to the brain can influence our moods and behaviour. Depression, anxiety, brain fog, insomnia and even autism are just some of the conditions that that may be linked to gut health problems. 

There’s also a known gut–skin connection. Unpleasant skin conditions such as eczema and even acne involve an immune reaction and inflammation, which can start in the gut. And researchers are now talking about a gut–eye connection and a gut–heart connection too – amongst others.

We don’t have to think too hard for this gut–everything connection to make sense. Our gut is our body’s way of taking in most of the things it needs for good health (pretty much everything except oxygen) and getting rid of most of wastes and toxins. So, if it’s not working as it should, we’re in trouble!

For looking after our gut, a good foundation is a healthy diet based on whole, real foods and including plenty of vegetables, healthy protein sources and gentle fibre-rich foods… such as oats!

How oats can benefit your gut

Oats can be a fantastic gut-friendly food as part of a healthy, varied diet. Here are four of their digestion-boosting benefits. 

1. Healthy bowel movements

Most simple of all, the high fibre content of oats helps us have regular and healthy bowel movements. To a nutritionist, this means at leastone easy bowel movement a day… preferably two or three! As well as helping to remove toxins and wastes efficiently from the body, healthy bowel movements reduce our risk of problems such as haemorrhoids and disease in the colon. 

2. Feeding your gut bacteria

Some of the fibre in oats is fermentablefibre – meaning the friendly bacteria in your gut can ‘feed’ on it. 

This has two benefits. First, it encourages those friendly bacteria to multiply, which helps crowd out the ‘bad’ bacteria, helps us digest and absorb more nutrients from our food, and encourages healthy bowel movements too.  

Second, when bacteria ferment these fibres, they produce short-chain fatty acids including butyrate. Butyrate is used for energy by the cells lining the large intestine – so it basically helps keep the gut wall healthy. It’s also been found to improve the ‘barrier’ function of the gut wall1, meaning its ability to stop harmful substances being absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream. Butyrate also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in the large intestine2. 

3. A gentler alternative for your gut

Oats can be a gentler source of fibre for your gut compared to some other grains. Wheat and rye fibre in particular – think high-fibre breakfast cereals and heavy rye breads – can trigger digestive problems for some. So, if you suffer bloating or other digestive difficulties after eating breads or wheat-based cereals, then consider switching to oats – such as oat porridge, oat-based muesli, oatcakes or oat crackers.

4. An anti-inflammatory and antioxidant bonus 

And it’s not just the fibre in oats that can benefit our gut. It’s been discovered that oats contain two unique types of plant nutrients with potential anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which could benefit our gut as well as our overall health. They are known as avenanthramides and avenacosides3,4. 

So, now you know why oats are so good for your digestion, why not try including more of them in your diet?

 

References

1. Zheng L et al. Microbial-Derived Butyrate Promotes Epithelial Barrier Function through IL-10 Receptor-Dependent Repression of Claudin-2. J Immunol. 2017 Oct 15;199(8):2976-2984. 

2. Rivière A et al. Bifidobacteria and Butyrate-Producing Colon Bacteria: Importance and Strategies for Their Stimulation in the Human Gut. Front Microbiol. 2016 Jun 28;7:979.

3. Sang S, Chu Y. Whole grain oats, more than just a fiber: Role of unique phytochemicals. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017 Jul;61(7). 

4. Yang J et al. In vitro total antioxidant capacity and anti-inflammatory activity of three common oat-derived avenanthramides. Food Chem. 2014 Oct 1;160:338-45. 

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