Fiber is one of the most researched nutrients on the market. Published studies from around the globe have highlighted the benefits of a high fiber diet — benefits like protection from cancer, a healthy heart and even weight loss.
But could fiber actually promote beneficial shifts in gut bacteria, leading to better intestinal health? Well, new research seems to say yes.
This is important because specific species of gut bacteria play a major role in human health. As a matter of fact, certain bacteria can aid in digestion of food, absorption of nutrients and elimination of wastes.
Fiber Ferments in Your GutWhen fiber undergoes fermentation, they produce short-chain fatty acids and other metabolites that can encourage the growth of healthy or “friendly” bacteria. Researchers at the University of Illinois published a report describing this link between fermentation of fiber and the resulting growth of bacteria.1 They wrote that the metabolism of fiber has tremendous benefits.
In an epidemic of metabolic disorders and diabetes, a healthy gut flora could be exactly what we need. The researchers pointed out that people who maintain a proper gut flora are less likely to develop diabetes and intestinal disorders, like inflammatory bowel disease. They believe this is a key reason for all of us to eat more fiber.
But as always, the researchers caution about jumping to conclusions. Before anyone can make definitive treatment claims for fiber and intestinal diseases, large-scale, controlled human studies need to be conducted.
Fiber Positively Affects Bacterial EcosystemsThe new research coming out of the University of Illinois and published in the Journal of Nutrition shows that fiber has a significant effect on the relative abundance of bacteria in your gut.
The researchers believe that we should be able to identify specific types of fiber that best influence the abundance of healthy gut bacteria. In a sense, we could target the growth of the most beneficial species and optimize not only intestinal health, but also overall health.
Dr. Kelly Swanson, the lead investigator, said, “When we understand what kind of fiber best nurtures these health-promoting bacteria, we should be able to modify imbalances to support and improve intestinal health.”
The two fibers they studied were polydextrose and soluble corn fiber. Now don’t get too wrapped up in the types of fiber they used. What’s really interesting is that they were able to show that specific types of fiber can produce specific shifts in the type of bacteria in your gut.
This means that in the near future, fiber and probiotic combinations could be personalized based on your own specific gut flora. This has huge implications for people suffering from metabolic disorders and intestinal diseases.
For example, Dr. Swanson said, “One type of bacteria that thrived as a result of the types of fiber fed in this study is inherently anti-inflammatory.” This means that a fiber like polydextrose could be beneficial for people with inflammatory bowel disease or IBD. Again, as you can see, this could lead to a personalized and highly targeted fiber and probiotic combination for IBD.
In the meantime, check out our recent blog post on five reasons to eat more fiber. Your gut will thank you for it!
- J Nutr. 2012 Jul;142(7):1259-65. Epub 2012 May 30. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22649263).
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