The health of our immune system also depends on our diet. Some foods more than others can benefit the body's defenses against infections. Oats are among these foods since they perform both a direct action on the immune system, by regulating the response to threats, and indirectly, by promoting the health of the microbiota, that is, the intestinal bacterial flora. We can learn about the immunomodulatory effects of oats thanks to a very recent review, which appeared in the journal Nutrients thanks to the work of an American team (Chen et al, Nutrients March 2021).
The nutrients of oats
Oats, scientific name avena sativa, is a cereal, capable of providing carbohydrates, B vitamins, magnesium, selenium, iron, zinc and manganese. Not only that, oats also contain proteins, more than other cereals such as rice or corn, fibers, including particular soluble fibers called beta glucans, and polyphenols, such as ferulic acid. As emerges from the review, all these substances work in synergy to make oats a protective food for the immune system.
Oat fibers and their action on the immune system
Oat fibers, in fact, promote the well-being of the intestinal microbiota, strengthen it from attack by pathogens and stimulate the growth of good bacteria. A healthy microbiota is linked to a proper functioning of the immune system. Not only that, fibers help regulate blood sugar, since they slow down the absorption of sugars contained in food, and this helps to counteract chronic inflammation that, when it can act undisturbed, tends to weaken the immune system in the long run. Finally, beta glucans increase the response of the innate immune system, which is the first line of defense we have against infections by bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Antioxidant mineral salts in oats
Then, elements such as zinc, iron and selenium perform an antioxidant action and protect the cells of the immune system from damage by free radicals. Not only that, they also help regulate the development of these cells, just like the oat proteins.
Polyphenols against viral infection
Polyphenols of oats, such as ferulic acid, regulate the immune response and counteract viral infection. In fact, it has been shown that they are able to hinder viral proliferation, adhesion and entry of the virus into the cell.
Green light to porridge, flakes and oat flour
In short, supplementing your diet with oats seems to be a good idea, for the general health of the organism, thanks to the precious nutrients contained in the cereal, but also for the immune system. Moreover, it has been observed that consuming 70 grams per day of oats in the form of porridge for a month has allowed to reduce the indicators of inflammation in the blood (Pavadhgul et al, Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, 2019). And, as we have seen, reducing inflammation also means strengthening the immune system. Oats can also be consumed in the form of flakes added to yogurt, as a drink or in the form of flour.