Live Longer with Whole Grains

Healthnotes Newswire (July 26, 2007)—Whole grains are heralded for their many health benefits, and here’s another: eating more of these nutrient-dense grains in breakfast cereals and breads, and choosing brown rice over white may actually reduce the risk of dying from inflammatory diseases.

Inflammation is a normal part of the body’s defense system. During the inflammatory process, highly reactive compounds are formed to help ward off foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. While this process is beneficial in the short term, ongoing inflammation places a burden on the body, eventually leading to tissue damage.

“We hypothesized that intake of whole grains may not only reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, but may also reduce the risk of other diseases for which inflammation or oxidative stress is a predominant causative factor,” said researchers from the University of Minnesota.

The researchers’ definition of inflammatory diseases included respiratory diseases such as emphysema, endocrine disorders like diabetes, infections, musculoskeletal and connective tissue diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, gastrointestinal diseases like ulcerative colitis, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Over 27,000 postmenopausal women took part in the new study, which was part of the Iowa Women’s Health Study (IWHS). They gave information about the type, amount, and frequency of whole grain foods that they ate including breakfast cereals, breads, brown rice, popcorn, and other grains. After 17 years, 5,552 of the women had died; 1,071 of the deaths were attributed to inflammatory causes.

Women who ate 11 or more servings of whole grains per week were 35% less likely to die of inflammatory diseases than were women who rarely or never ate whole grains. “The strongest and most robust associations were for respiratory disorders, especially noninfectious ones,” the team commented in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Previous studies have shown that whole grains can help lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Refined grains have been stripped of much of the fiber, phytoestrogens (chemicals found in plants that have mild estrogen-like effects), vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant substances that whole grains have in abundance. “We suggest that oxidative stress reduction by constituents of whole grains is a likely mechanism for the protective effect,” the team concluded.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommends eating at least three “ounce equivalents” of whole grains each day. One ounce equivalent is equal to 1 slice of whole grain bread, 1 cup of cold cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked cereal or rice.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:1606–14)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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