The potential role of phytochemicals in wholegrain cereals for the prevention of type-2 diabetes
Damien P Belobrajdic and Anthony R Bird
Diets high in wholegrains are associated with a 20-30% reduction in risk of developing type-2 diabetes (T2D), which is attributed to a variety of wholegrain components, notably dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Most phytochemicals function as antioxidants in vitro and have the potential to mitigate oxidative stress and inflammation which are implicated in the pathogenesis of T2D. In this review we compare the content and bioavailability of phytochemicals in wheat, barley, rice, rye and oat varieties and critically evaluate the evidence for wholegrain cereals and cereal fractions increasing plasma phytochemical concentrations and reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in humans. Phytochemical content varies considerably within and among the major cereal varieties. Differences in genetics and agro-climatic conditions explain much of the variation. For a number of the major phytochemicals, such as phenolics and flavanoids, their content in grains may be high but because these compounds are tightly bound to the cell wall matrix, their bioavailability is often limited. Clinical trials show that postprandial plasma phenolic concentrations are increased after consumption of wholegrain wheat or wheat bran however the magnitude of the response is usually modest and transient. Whether this is sufficient to bolster antioxidant defences and translates into improved health outcomes is still uncertain. Increased phytochemical bioavailability may be achieved through bio-processing of grains but the improvements so far are small and have not yet led to changes in clinical or physiological markers associated with reduced risk of T2D. Furthermore, the effect of wholegrain cereals and cereal fractions on biomarkers of oxidative stress or strengthening antioxidant defence in healthy individuals is generally small or nonexistent, whereas biomarkers of systemic inflammation tend to be reduced in people consuming high intakes of wholegrains. Future dietary intervention studies seeking to establish a direct role of phytochemicals in mediating the metabolic health benefits of wholegrains, and their potential for mitigating disease progression, should consider using varieties that deliver the highest possible levels of bioavailable phytochemicals in the context of whole foods and diets. Both postprandial and prolonged responses in systemic phytochemical concentrations and markers of inflammation and oxidative stress should be assessed along with changes related to health outcomes in healthy individuals as well as those with metabolic disease.