Effects of oats on gastrointestinal health as assessed by in vitro, animal, and human studies

Nutr Rev. 2020 May 1;78(5):343-363. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuz064.


Oats are uniquely nutritious, owing to their composition of bioactive compounds, lipids, and β-glucan. Scientific research has established that oats can improve diet quality, reduce cholesterol, regulate satiety, and protect against carcinogenesis in the colon; however, determining the effects of oats on gastrointestinal health and the gut microbiome is a newer, evolving area of research. To better understand the effects of oats on gastrointestinal health in humans, a literature review with predefined search criteria was conducted using the PubMed database and keywords for common gastrointestinal health outcomes. Moreover, to examine the gastrointestinal effects of oats across the scientific spectrum, a similar search strategy was executed to identify animal studies. In vitro studies were identified from the reference lists of human and animal studies. A total of 8 human studies, 19 animal studies, and 5 in vitro studies met the inclusion criteria for this review. The evidence in humans shows beneficial effects of oats on gastrointestinal health, with supportive evidence provided by in vitro and animal studies. The effective dose of oats varies by type, although an amount providing 2.5 to 2.9 g of β-glucan per day was shown to decrease fecal pH and alter fecal bacteria. For oat bran, 40 to 100 g/d was shown to increase fecal bacterial mass and short-chain fatty acids in humans. Differences in study design, methodology, and type of oats tested make valid comparisons difficult. The identification of best practices for the design of oat studies should be a priority in future research, as the findings will be useful for determining how oats influence specific indices of gastrointestinal health, including the composition of the human gut microbiome.

Keywords: gastrointestinal health; microbiome; microbiota; oats; short-chain fatty acids; whole grain; β-glucan.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avena*
  • Dietary Fiber*
  • Edible Grain
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Gastrointestinal Tract* / microbiology
  • Humans


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile