Prof Catherine Stanton, leader of the research, APC Microbiome Institute and Teagasc Food Research Centre in Moorepark is pictured with Prof Noel Caplice, Professor of Cardiovascular Science, Director of the Centre for Research in Vascular Biology and investigator APC Microbiome Institute, UCC (left) and Dr Paul Ryan, APC Microbiome Institute, UCC. (Pic: Cathal Noonan)

Scientists at the Science Foundation Ireland–funded APC Microbiome Institute in Cork have confirmed that gut microbes play a role in heart health. They also demonstrated that we should consume porridge regularly 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 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.

Prof Catherine Stanton, leader of the research at the APC Microbiome Institute and Teagasc Food Research Centre, Moorepark, said: “These results show we need to consider effects on the microbiome when treating cardiovascular disease through either food or medication. The message is to take porridge regularly to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease whilst also protecting your gut microbiota.”

In the study, mice were fed a high fat diet together with either a food supplement or medication over a period of 24 weeks. The food supplements used in the study were plant stanol ester (the plant equivalent of cholesterol, currently added to some foods) and oat beta glucan (the fibre in porridge).

The drug used was Atorvastatin, one of the ‘statin’ group of drugs. The particular mice used are susceptible to the build-up of cholesterol in their arteries because they are apoE-/- deficient.

Atorvastatin and plant stanol esters are known to reduce levels of ’bad‘ cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) and triglycerides in the blood, while increasing levels of ’good‘ cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL).

They are used to treat high cholesterol, and to lower the risk of stroke, heart attack, or other heart complications in people with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, or other risk factors. In this study, mice treated with Atorvastatin had similar physiology to the mice treated with oat beta glucan (reduced body weight and percentage body fat).