Oat Straw is a botanical supplement sourced from the unripened Avena sativa plant, native to Northern Europe and North America. It is thought to deliver numerous health and wellbeing benefits, including improving cognitive performance and mood, and working as an excellent anti-inflammatory.
You will often find it sold as a tincture, though you can also get it as a powder or in capsule form.
Oat Straw Extract
Common oat, botanical name Avena sativa, is a cereal grass species. You may also see it referred to as green oat or wild oat extract.
We eat its mature seeds all the time. You eat them every time you have a bowl of porridge. These are the bog-standard oats you buy at your local supermarket. They are incredibly healthy, giving you plenty of slow-release carbs and fibre, and helping to keep your cholesterol levels in check.
However, oat straw extract doesn’t come from these seeds. Instead, we get it from the stems and leaves, harvested earlier on in the season whilst the grass is still green. It is very rich in minerals such as iron, zinc, and manganese, though the exact nutrient composition can vary according to how and where the oats were farmed.
Whatever its mineral composition, oat straw extract is thought to bring about a great many health benefits, such as improved cognitive wellbeing, decreased severity of insomnia and stress symptoms, and improvements to athletic and sexual performance.
The science is still young, however. Not all of these claims have so far been sufficiently investigated in a clinical setting.
Oat Straw Benefits
With the caveat that most of the benefits that oat straw extract is thought to deliver are under-explored in proper clinical settings, there is potentially a lot to gain from taking it. There are plenty of health and wellness benefits associated with it, many of which may potentially bear scrutiny.
Oat straw extract is thought to improve blood flow. This is important for several reasons.
Firstly, improved blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients delivered throughout the body. This should theoretically result in greater physical performance. It should also aid recovery, especially post-exercise, as your muscles and soft tissue receive plenty of nourishment.
Aside from this, impairments to blood flow bring a great many health risks, including heart disease, stroke, and even some neurodegenerative diseases. Overcoming any impairment – or, better yet, ensuring no such impairment happens in the first place – therefore has some obvious benefits. It can lower your risk from these kinds of diseases.
Oat straw extract delivers a fairly unique set of antioxidants, known as avenanthramides. These have all been shown to improve your heart health, likely particularly due to their ability to improve the production of nitric oxide, and thus blood flow. Nitric oxide is a molecule that aids in blood vessel dilation.
This has actually been studied quite in-depth. A study of 37 older adults with excess body weight were found to benefit from several months of taking 1,500 mg of oat straw extract daily. They showed significant improvements in several measures of blood flow in both the brain and heart compared with a control group.
Oat straw extract may also help in reducing inflammation, a benefit that should never be underestimated. Chronic inflammation is very closely related to your risk of suffering with conditions like type II diabetes, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer.
Oat straw extract is brimming with plenty of different antioxidants, not just the avenanthramides. Antioxidants help to fight oxidative stress, thus inflammation, keeping you healthy and greatly reducing your risk of suffering from plenty of grave illnesses.
The avenanthramides are particularly good here, though, even if they aren’t working alone. They have been shown to suppress cytokine production and secretion. Cytokines are pro-inflammatory compounds that have been linked with several chronic conditions, including heart disease.
You will often see oat straw extract included in nootropic recipes – so called ‘smart drugs’. This is because it is thought to help in boosting cognitive function, especially in older adults.
It is thought to do so in several ways. Two in particular stand out.
Firstly, as we have seen, oat straw extract can improve blood circulation, particularly to the brain. It contains an amino acid called arginine which synthesizes to create the nitric oxide mentioned above. In addition, the suppression of cytokines has been shown to help increase blood flow, as has the presence of avenanthramides. As we’ve seen, this allows blood vessels to dilate more, thus allowing for greater blood flow.
Cerebral circulation is a big indicator of cognitive health and function. It allows the oxygen and nutrients that your brain requires to function properly to reach where they are most needed. We can see this borne out in tentative clinical data. The same study mentioned above, lasting for 24-weeks with 37 older adults receiving a daily dose of 1500 mg oat straw extract showed a 42% increase in cerebral vascular responsiveness. This suggests greater dilation in the middle cerebral artery in response to stress.
Secondly, oat straw extract has been tentatively linked with an increase in alpha brain waves. These brain wave patterns occur when you are relaxed. The less stress, in general, the greater your alpha brain wave output. Alpha brain waves are closely tied in improvements in learning, flow states, and positive moods and thus it is thought that oat straw can act as a mood booster.
A recent study involved a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled crossover study using two oat straw extract doses, 1250 mg and 2500 mg. Electroencephalography (EEG) was used to measure brain waves. Data from the EEG showed that the oat straw extract affected areas of the brain linked to cognition, and participants performed more ably in arithmetic tasks whilst taking it, making fewer mistakes.
Another couple of studies found that supplementing with between 800 mg and 1,600 mg of oat straw extract led to significant improvements in various areas of cognition, most markedly in memory, attention, and concentration (though this may involve bias as the study was commissioned by an oat straw supplement manufacturer).
Research is also a little contradictory. Data from a similar study looking at healthy adults taking 1,500 mg of oat straw extract every day for twelve weeks found no change in measures of cognitive health such as attention, focus, memory, and multi-tasking performance.
All in all, the current clinical research we have on oat straw extract for cognitive performance is found wanting. Though it seems very promising, we need far more data before we can say for sure.
Research is also quite limited on oat straw extract’s effects on mood. It is a traditional remedy for symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. A few studies show that it may inhibit creation of the enzyme phosphodiesterase type 4 (PDE4). PDE4 is found in your immune cells and its inhibition may give the mood results we are looking for (relief from stress, anxiety, and depression).
Oat straw extract may also bring down the level of pro-inflammatory cytokines, as we have seen. It’s been theorized that cytokines play a role in bringing on depression and other psychiatric concerns. Reducing levels could therefore help in mitigating a range of mental health symptoms.
Animal studies have shown some promise in this regard. A study on rats showed that low doses of oat straw extract could significantly enhance their ability to deal with stress after seven weeks compared with a control group. This has yet to be studied in-depth in human participants.
Taking Oat Straw Extract
Oat straw extract is easily available through online retailers and high street health food stores. You can buy it as powders, capsules, and tinctures. Unless you’re really eager to mix it into a smoothie or shake – in which case go with powder – I would recommend capsules. It’s far more convenient to take.
Though more research is needed into oat straw extract, what we have so far suggests that a dose of around 800–1,600 mg per day will be effective. This will obviously depend on various factors, like age and body mass, but this seems to be a workable range.
We also don’t have too much data on the safety and potential long term side effects of oat straw extract. There is at present no way of knowing how symptoms and effects might manifest. However, oat straw extract is a natural ingredient. As long as you buy a product with no artificial additives, you should be OK.
This being said, it’s always best to speak with your healthcare provider before taking a new supplement. They will be able to better advise you with your own medical history in mind. The effects of oat straw extract on pregnant or breastfeeding women, and on children, have not been studied.
The Bottom Line
All told, oat straw extract seems to be very promising.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence and a small but growing body of research data suggesting that it likely does indeed give us the benefits we want from it.
It is an antioxidant, can bring more blood to the brain and heart, and may be able to improve cognitive and mental health, among other benefits.