Benefits of Oatmeal for Fatty Liver Disease

Image Credit: Sally Plank

Benefits of Oatmeal for Fatty Liver Disease

If oatmeal is so powerful that it can clear up some of the ravages of chemotherapy just applied to the skin (see my video Oatmeal Lotion for Chemotherapy-Induced Rash), what might it do if we actually ate it? Oats are reported to possess varied drug-like activities like lowering blood cholesterol and blood sugar, boosting our immune system, anticancer, antioxidant, and anti-atherosclerosis activities, in addition to being a topical anti-inflammatory, and reportedly may also be useful in controlling childhood asthma and body weight. 

Whole-grain intake in general is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and weight gain, as shown in my video Can Oatmeal Help Fatty Liver Disease?. All of the cohort studies on type 2 diabetes and heart disease show whole grain intake is associated with lower risk.

Researchers have observed the same for obesity—consistently less weight gain for those who consumed a few servings of whole grains every day. All the forward-looking population studies demonstrate that a higher intake of whole grains is associated with lower body mass index and body weight gain. However, these results do not clarify whether whole grain consumption is simply a marker of a healthier lifestyle or a factor favoring lower body weight.

For example, high whole grain consumers—those who eat whole wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal for breakfast—tend to be more physically active, smoke less, and consume more fruit, vegetables, and dietary fiber than those that instead reach for Froot Loops. Statistically, one can control these factors, effectively comparing nonsmokers to nonsmokers with similar exercise and diet as most of the studies did, and they still found whole grains to be protective via a variety of mechanisms.

For example, in terms of helping with weight control, the soluble fiber of oatmeal forms a gel in the stomach, delaying stomach emptying, making one feel full for a longer period. It seems plausible that whole grain intake does indeed offer direct benefits, but only results of randomized controlled intervention studies can provide direct evidence of cause and effect. In other words, the evidence is clear that oatmeal consumers have lower rates of disease, but that’s not the same as proving that if we start eating more oatmeal, our risk will drop. To know that, we need an interventional trial, ideally a blinded study where you give half the people oatmeal, and the other half fake placebo oatmeal that looks and tastes like oatmeal, to see if it actually works. And that’s what we finally got—a double-blinded randomized trial of overweight and obese men and women. Almost 90% of the real oatmeal-treated subjects had reduced body weight, compared to no weight loss in the control group. They saw a slimmer waist on average, a 20 point drop in cholesterol, and an improvement in liver function. 

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, meaning a fatty liver caused by excess food rather than excess drink, is now the most common cause of liver disease in the United States, and can lead in rare cases to cirrhosis of the liver, cancer of the liver, and death. Theoretically, whole grains could help prevent and treat fatty liver disease, but that was the first time it had been put to the test. A follow-up study in 2014 confirmed these findings of a protective role of whole grains, but refined grains were associated with increased risk. So, one would not expect to get such wonderful results from Wonder Bread.

How can you make your oatmeal even healthier? See Antioxidants in a Pinch.

Whole Grains May Work As Well As Drugs for hypertension, but refined grain intake may linked with high blood pressure and diseases like diabetes. But If White Rice is Linked to Diabetes, What About China?.

More on keeping the liver healthy in videos like:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


37 responses to “Benefits of Oatmeal for Fatty Liver Disease

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  1. When looking at the abstract of the Georgoulis article: An odds ratio of 0.97 of not having steatohepatitis eating whole grains hardly seems an overwhelming endorsement for suggesting whole grains for prevention of fatty liver disease. And an odds ratio of 1.021 of developing steatohepatitis eating refined grains is not particularly condemning of refined grain intake.

    1. NutritionFacts puts out videos three days a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we get text-only blog posts, but often with links to previous videos embedded in them.

  2. Every year I go for a blood test as part of my check up. My blood pressure is 120/80 and I do not take any prescription meds. I take very good care of my health and I am 52 year old male. The only alcohol I consume is an average of 2 glasses of white wine a week. I do take Excedrin Migraine pills on average of 2 pills a week for migraine and or sinus headache. Every year my blood comes back fine, except for bilirubin which comes back as 1.9 where the average is 0.3-1.0. My doctor never bothers to mention it to me as I guess he thinks it is not something to be concerned about. Any ideas why this would be elevated? Every other aspect of my health is excellent. Would eating more whole grains and oatmeal help? Thank you.

    1. It’s possible that you’re one of the five percent of the population that has a supposedly benign congenital liver condition formerly called Gilbert’s disease, now called Gilbert’s syndrome. It sometimes leads to lethargy, depression intestinal disorders and other vague complaints. I believe it was declassified as a disease because it was too hard to treat and doctors didn’t want to deal with it.

    2. Might need to get some sun exposure? I know that newborn babies are quite prone to jaundice when born and this down to increased bilirubin. Was informed that sun exposure for vit D helps.

  3. Many years ago, in a very stressful period in my life, I developed an over-sensitivity to OATS ending with extreme and painful bloating. I was very saddened to have to give up my porridge in the morning, especially, since I have fatty liver disease and a very dangerous kind of breast cancer. Is there any other grain that could have equally good effects on my health? I am already eating flax seeds, hemp hearts and and chia seeds. I would be very grateful for your suggestion!

    To your Health,

    Antje

    1. Hi Antje! I am a volunteer for NutritionFacts, nutrition student, and an avid plant-based cook (housewife level right now, but hopefully will be teaching others someday!). I’m so sorry to hear you have such trouble with oats. They really are a great food. Some other whole grains that I like to have for breakfast are spelt, wheat berries, buckwheat, amaranth seed, millet… There’s lots of alternatives! And it’s fun to mix it up too. It just depends what texture and flavor you prefer :) Enjoy experimenting!

    1. Hi camarosspr. I’m a volunteer moderator and Registered Dietitian who helps Dr. G. answer questions. The answer to your question lies in the type of fibre oatmeal contains, which is largely soluble fibre. Soluble fibre and in particular the B-glucan soluble fibre which is rich in oatmeal (and barley) has been shown to be powerful in lowering blood cholesterol and blood sugar. Hope this helps!

  4. camarosspr February 9th, 2017 at 6:41 pm
    “Eating oatmeal is a boatload of carbs.”

    Nothing wrong with a boatload of carbs. The Okinawan Diet consisted of 6% fat, 9% protein, and 85% carbs.

  5. I’m reading Breakfast is a Dangerous Meal by Terence Kealey and I was surprised to read, “And porridge, I’m afraid, is also bad for you. People find that hard to believe…but I’m afraid the cardiac death rates in Scotland are not just the product of whisky – porridge plays its ignoble share in that holocaust.”
    What should one make of that?
    Thanks,

    1. The Scots most likely to suffer from heart disease have most likely never gone near a bowl of porridge. It is the overall disgusting Scottish diet and alcohol and smoking and related obesity that contributes to their high mortality figures. Believe me, just because oats used to be the diet of the Scots like the Irish and potatoes, this was like, before the war.

    2. Hi CW. Thanks for your question. I am a volunteer moderator with NF,org and I agree with Gillian above. While I haven’t read Kealy’s book , when interpreting any information, context is critical – we’ve got to look at the whole picture. To pin heart disease on oatmeal being ineffective seems a bit ludicrous when there is a ton of evidence to support the opposite. In addition, as Gillian said, there are other factors, known contributors to heart disease, that may be prevalent such as the saturated fat intake, inactivity, alcohol, body weight etc. in the Scottish population. Hope this helps!

  6. Kealey footnotes that statement to a British Heart Foundation publication Cardiovascular Disease Statistics 2014. How porridge gets into the picture is anyone’s guess!

  7. I have no science background, but I have always thought of oats as kind of “magical”. They soothed every skin issue, my horses always do well on them, and they taste delicious, what more could you ask for?

  8. Just wondering whether instant oatmeal will have same benefits. I cook all kinds of things with oatmeal, among other things, but recently had a (STEMI) heart attack (even though vegetarian for 40 years, don’t smoke and don’t like salt). I had already been changing to VEGAN instead of lacto-ovo, but this was still quite a shock to me and my children. Anyway, I want to do what is best — walking more, eating even better, so I can continue to care for my adult son. Hence the question about instant for busy work mornings. Of course, I can always cook in crock pot if this is preferable. Thank you.

    1. In regards to instant oatmeal I suggest looking for quick oats. Instant oatmeal packets usually have many ingredients including salt and chemicals. Quick oats are usually one ingredient, oats. If you put them in water, microwave and let cool and thicken for a few minutes it is almost the same as instant.

    2. Hi Linda. Thanks for your question, I am one of the site moderators. One of the basic tenets of moving toward a healthier lifestyle is to try to eat the least processed foods possible. As we’ve moved toward more convenience at times we don’t recognize when a food has been altered. In order for oatmeal to be “instant” it is processed and a lot of the fiber, making it a healthy choice is removed. The glycemic index of instant oats is higher than the regular and steel cut oats is even less. For the best results, making some oatmeal in the slow cooker overnight or even in the refrigerator overnight is a great option. Putting some plant based milk, some nuts and whole fruit will also decrease the glycemic index. For ideas google “overnight oats” and you will find thousands of recipes and you can do it once and you’ll have breakfast for the entire week!

  9. Not so fast, Dr Greger. I sincerely appreciate your in-depths research on various topics. But I recently came across these findings:”

    “In a new study, scientists report that cells from a vicious and treatment-resistant form of breast cancer die off rapidly when deprived of a key nutrient called cystine. ”
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161121162442.htm

    While high in chicken, but also high in oats and soy, to name a few.
    https://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/high-cysteine-foods.php

  10. Is oatmeal and barley good for prediabetic? And when including in diet of prediabetic is it best in the morning or later in the day? Last, when consuming oatmeal and barley with this condition how many carbs a day is recommended? Thanks

    1. Fran Sterling: You can definitely eat oatmeal and barley for breakfast if you want, even as a prediabetic. (Though the devil is in the details. You will want to make sure you are eating the right foods with the oatmeal and the rest of the time.)

      How do I know? Following is a really great book I have read more than once. The book is based on solid, published research. Dr. Barnard has done studies on diabetics where he only changed the diet. Dr. Barnard got published in peer reviewed, respected medical journals and was able to prove that his diet is 3 times more effective than the ADA diet. Both in research and on this website, people have reported being able to reverse their insulin sensitivity following the diet. What’s more, note that Dr. Barnard is not the only researcher who has proven that the diet works.
      .
      The book is called “Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes without Drugs”. https://www.amazon.com/Neal-Barnards-Program-Reversing-Diabetes/dp/1594868107/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480632167&sr=1-1&keywords=barnard+diabetes The diet can be labeled as a low fat, whole food plant based (WFPB) diet. The beauty of this diet is that you not only get the benefits of treating the type 2 diabetes, but you also get the benefits of maximizing your chances for long term health. As evidence for that statement, I’ll note that this is same diet which is great for preventing or reversing the top 15 killers of Amercians (http://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-not-to-die ). It is also mirroring the eating patterns of the longest lived and healthiest populations on the planet. The traditional Okinawans are an example of this: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-okinawa-diet-living-to-100/.
      .
      Here is the practical side: Dr. Barnard’s book contains both sample meal plans and recipes at the back. So, you will get a lot of support/answers not only about oatmeal, but about any other questions you have. You will not be on your own to try to figure out what to do.
      .
      I can provide additional resources for say finding good meals/recipes to eat. Let me know if you are interested.

      1. Indeed there are other factors to diabetes and diet other than grains. One curious thing: Ayurvedic medicine uses barley as a main form of treatment for diabetes. I’m not sure if that is because it has more fiber than other grains or for some other quality of barley. It could also be that oats were unknown to India or perhaps at least not popular. Oats, because it is warming (any modern research that confirms or dismisses that? Chinese medicine also considers it warming), are only commonly used by those living in colder climates, such as the UK. That is the primary reason it is popular here, inheritance from English culture. The Ancient Greeks thought little of it, perhaps also in comparison to their main grain barley.

  11. The real tough question is how to make Oatmeal taste okay with no sweetener??? Adding berries is just not sufficient.

    I eat oatmeal before my workouts (cycling), but I add ample honey with berries, etc.

    1. David: I have two thoughts for you. One is that you can make savory oatmeal! Someone suggested the idea to me some time ago. I found various ideas out there and then played around with ideas. I surprised myself with how much I like it. Now I eat oatmeal both ways for variety. The point is, if you want to avoid the honey, you could try going savory.

      As for sweetening, I found that lots of bananas works well. As does some dates. Just for you, I’m sharing my special chocolate oatmeal recipe:

      Easy Breakfast Steelcut Oatmeal

      • 2.75 cups water
      • 2-3 bananas (depending on size and your tastes)
      • 1 T vanilla (as desired)
      • ~6+ T (to taste) unsweetened fair trade* cocoa powder
      • 1.5 cups steel cut oatmeal

      Optional Add-Ins
      • amla powder
      • dates
      • spices (cinnamon, pumpkin pie, cloves, etc.)

      Directions
      > Add all ingredients except the oatmeal to a blender. Include optional add-ins if using. Mix it all up good.
      > Poor blender mixture into a GIANT microwave safe bowl. (With a good 2 or so inches space on top.
      > Stir in oatmeal.
      > Microwave 6 minutes. Stir well.
      > Microwave 5 minutes.
      > Let it sit in the microwave over-night to finish cooking.

      Makes ~5 day’s worth of generous breakfast for one person.

      To Serve
      Dish out the cooked chocolate oatmeal mixture into a bowl, top with ground flax seed, dried fruit and a lot of almond milk. Warm it all up in the microwave until the flax meal and dried fruit get soft. You and your whole family will love it. Enjoy.

      *Chocolate that is not fair trade may come from child slave labor. No joke.

  12. Dear Dr. Gregor–
    Oatmeal causes my BG to rise above 200 when I eat it and the BG is sustained for a day or two before it returns to normal levels. My HBA1C has been slowly creeping up over the years but the irony is that the oatmeal has also caused my TC to plummet to below 120 so that is a really good thing. My doctor has brought this to my attention. Have you ever heard of oatmeal doing this to some people? Is it still ok to eat if it is causing me sustained blood sugar spikes like this? What are your thoughts if any?

    Thanks!

  13. Everyone is different. I get fat eating oatmeal since it tastes so good and is quite calorie dense. You may need to reduce or eliminate it. You could also try eating it raw instead.

    Dr. Ben

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