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Are Oat Grains and Oatmeal Cancer Fighting Foods?

Various forms of oats have cancer-fighting properties.

Did You Know?

Oats have been cultivated as a crop since at least 2000 BC, according to archaeological records. Oats have been described to have medicinal properties by Hippocrates and other ancient Greek writers.(i.352)

Besides being used for animal feed, cereal products, and herbal medicine, oats are also used to make beer and whiskey and as a food preservative in bacon, nuts, and potato chips.(i.354355)

Eating whole grain foods is associated with lower risk for many diseases, including cancer. So it may be surprising to know that population studies show that higher levels of dietary oats and oatmeal are not linked to lower rates of certain types of cancer. However, research does suggest that many isolated compounds found in oats have cancer fighting effects.(i.348-351)

Beneficial Compounds in Oats

Oats are processed from cereal grasses. Cultivated oats include the species Avena sativa, Avena byzantina, and Avena nuda. The most commonly grown species of oats is A. sativa.(i.352-356)

Oats are loaded with a number of cancer-fighting antioxidant compounds. Some are specific to oats (e.g., avenathramides) and some are also found in other cereal grains, as well as vegetables and fruits. Studies show that these compounds may be beneficial in fighting various cancers:

Oat Compound Cancer-Fighting Potential
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma(i.358)
  • Breast cancer(i.359)
  • Cervical cancer(i.360)
  • Head and neck cancers(i.361)
  • Kidney cancer(i.362)
  • Leukemia(i.363)
  • Liver cancer(i.364)
  • Lung cancer(i.365)
  • Pancreatic cancer(i.366)
  • Prostate cancer(i.367)
  • Skin cancer(i.368)
  • Solid tumors(i.365)
  • Thyroid cancer(i.369)
Avenanthramides (A and B)(i.349)(i.357)
  • Breast cancer(i.370)
  • Cervical cancer(i.371)
  • Colon cancer(i.356)
  • Liver cancer(i.372)
  • Prostate cancer(i.373)
Beta-glucan soluble fibers(i.356)
  • Colon cancer(i.356)
  • Lung cancer(i.374)
Caffeic acid(i.375)
  • Cervical cancer(i.25)
  • Colon cancer(i.376)
Ferulic acid(i.377) Head and neck cancers(i.378)
Folic acid(i.379)
  • Breast cancer(i.376)
  • Colon cancer(i.380)
Inulin(i.381) Colon cancer(i.381)
Magnesium(i.379) Breast cancer(i.382, i.383)
Niacin(i.379) Ovarian cancer(i.384)
Protocatechuic acid(i.357) Anticancer effects in breast, liver, lung, cervical, and prostate cancers(i.385)

Prevention and progression activity against a number of different cancers, including:(i.60, i.386)

Rho-coumaric acid(i.394)
  • Brain cancer (i.394)
  • Breast cancer(i.394)
  • Colon cancer(i.394)
  • Liver cancer(i.394)
  • Lung cancer(i.394)
Riboflavin(i.379) Breast cancer(i.395)
Vitamin E(i.375)
  • Ovarian cancer(i.384)
  • Prostate cancer(i.396)
  • Skin cancer(i.397)
Vitamin K(i.379)
  • Bladder cancer(i.398)
  • Leukemia(i.399)
  • Liver cancer (prevention & treatment)(i.400, i.401)
  • Ovarian cancer(i.402)
  • Pancreatic cancer(i.403)
  • Prostate cancer(i.404)
  • Colon cancer(i.372)
  • Liver cancer(i.313, i.372)

Other beneficial compounds in oats include:

  • Rho-coumaric(i.357)
  • Scopoletin(i.406)
  • Tricin (from oat hulls)(i.407)
  • Unsaturated fatty acids(i.379)
  • Vanillic acid(i.357)
  • Vitexin(i.405)

Many of these oat compounds have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.(i.355, i.356, i.408)

Other Potential Health Benefits of Oats

Topical oatmeal is commonly used to relieve symptoms of itch and irritation caused by skin rashes - including eczema. Research suggests dietary oats, oats oil, oatmeal, and oat compounds may have benefits in various conditions and chronic diseases.(i.349, i.356, i.409)

These include:

  • Anxiety(i.356)
  • Cognitive and memory loss (linked to aging)(i.405)
  • Diabetes(i.353, i.356)
  • Erectile dysfunction (ED)(i.356)
  • Fatty liver disease(i.410)
  • Fungal infections(i.411)
  • Heart disease(i.353)
  • High blood pressure (mixed results)(i.412)
  • High cholesterol(i.356)
  • Male infertility(i.413)
  • Obesity(i.414)
  • Osteoporosis(i.415)
  • Wound healing(i.416)
  • Wrinkles(i.417)

Despite these positive research results, a recently published meta-analysis of 6 population studies showed no link between consumption of oats or oatmeal and:(i.350)

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Disease-related mortality
  • Heart disease
  • Infectious diseases
  • Respiratory diseases

This may be due to the species of oats used or the study type. In addition, how oat groats are processed affects the level of beneficial antioxidants in oats.(i.350, i.353, i.418)

Forms of Oats Available

Whole oat grains are called groats. Similar to other whole grains, groats contain bran, germ, and an endosperm.(i.69, i.375)

The different kinds of oats found in the market depend on how the oat grains are processed:

Oat Product Description


(also called oat pearlings)

  • Whole grains with hulls removed.(i.375)
  • May be found in specialty food stores or whole-foods sections of larger grocery stores.(i.375)
Rolled oats
  • Most common form found in oatmeal.(i.375)
  • Steamed and flattened groats are then flaked.(i.375)

Scotch oats

(also called steel-cut oats or Irish oatmeal)

  • The thickest flakes available of rolled oats.(i.375)
  • Takes the longest time to cook (of all rolled oats).(i.375)

Regular old fashioned oats

(also called table-cut oats)

  • Middle-thickness rolled oats flake.(i.375)
  • Cooks faster than steel-cut oats.(i.375)
  • Nutty taste and texture.(i.375)

Quick-cooking oats

(also called instant oats)

  • Thinnest rolled oats flake.(i.375)
  • Less flavorful than other rolled oats.(i.375)

Whole oat groats have more antioxidants than oat flour.(i.375)

Oats and Gluten-Free Diets

Oats may be a useful grain for people following a gluten-free diet, including those with celiac disease. However, experts caution the following:(i.419, i.420)

  • A small percentage of people with celiac disease may still have a negative reaction to oats.
  • Oats can be contaminated by other cereal grains that contain gluten, so a certified gluten-free source is important.
  • Certain varieties of oats may be better than others at avoiding the immune-system response linked to celiac disease. Studies suggest Avena genziana and A. potenza are the best choices.
Also called white or yellow oats; avena in Spanish, hafer in German, and avoine in French.(i.352)
Also referred to as red oats; this species designation is now combined with A. sativa.(i.352)
Also known as "naked oats."(353)
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