Eating whole-grain breakfast cereals may lower the risk of heart failure in men, new data suggest.

The finding comes from what investigators believe is the first study to examine prospectively the relation between breakfast cereal and heart-failure risk in a large population. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School in Boston analyzed data from 21,400 men who participated in the Physicians’ Health Study.

After an average follow-up of about 20 years, 1,018 new cases of heart failure occurred. Men who ate whole-grain cereals every day had a 28% lower risk of heart failure compared with men who ate none. This finding held up even after adjusting for age, smoking status, alcohol intake, vegetable consumption, use of multivitamins, exercise, and history of atrial fibrillation, valvular heart disease, and left ventricular hypertrophy. The risk was 22% lower for men who had two to six servings a week. By contrast, those who ate refined cereals experienced no change in heart-failure risk.

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In discussing possible biologic mechanisms at work, the authors observed that such nutrients as potassium have been shown to lower BP, and research suggests that phytoestrogens contained in whole-grain cereals may improve lipid levels and insulin sensitivity (Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:2080-2085).

Cereal fiber may also help prevent diabetes, according to another study (Arch Intern. Med. 2007; 167:2304-2309). Among black women, researchers found that cereal-fiber intake was inversely associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes. Women in the highest quintile of intake (5.9 g/day) had an 18% reduction in risk.