Alternative Medicine - - News - BY CARALIN WALSH

Stay up to date with all the lat­est al­ter­na­tive health in­for­ma­tion.

You’re prob­a­bly al­ready fa­mil­iar with one of the ben­e­fits of fiber, but this car­bo­hy­drate has a lot more to of­fer than just reg­u­lar­ity. Fi­brous foods have been linked with healthy weight main­te­nance, low­ered choles­terol, and de­creased risk of di­a­betes and colon can­cer. In ad­di­tion to th­ese ben­e­fits, fiber seems to play a cru­cial role in bal­anc­ing the gut mi­cro­biome.

A re­cent study in Na­ture ex­am­ined the role of di­etary fiber in rats, specif­i­cally in their gut mi­cro­biomes. The rats were given a diet with re­duced di­etary fiber, which de­creased di­ver­sity of the gut mi­cro­biome. Af­ter adding fiber back into the diet, not all of the mi­cro­biota could be re­plen­ished. More­over, the di­min­ished mi­cro­biota was passed down to the next gen­er­a­tion. This study sug­gests fiber has an im­por­tant role to play in the hu­man gut mi­cro­biome as well.

How can one lit­tle nu­tri­ent do so much? The trick is in the di­ges­tive tract. Our bod­ies can’t di­gest fiber, so it trav­els through our di­ges­tive sys­tem in­tact and helps keep every­thing in check. There are two types of fiber, sol­u­ble and in­sol­u­ble, which travel through your body in dif­fer­ent ways and of­fer their own unique health ben­e­fits.

SOL­U­BLE FIBER Sol­u­ble fiber ab­sorbs wa­ter, cre­at­ing a gel-like sub­stance that creeps through the di­ges­tive sys­tem. This slows down di­ges­tion and gives your body more time to process what’s mov­ing through it.

A study in Nu­tri­ents found that sol­u­ble fibers were more ef­fec­tive in low­er­ing LDL and to­tal choles­terol. When th­ese fibers travel slowly through the di­ges­tive tract, they trap bile, pre­vent­ing it from be­ing re­ab­sorbed, and thereby con­tribut­ing to lower to­tal choles­terol lev­els. They also reg­u­late blood sugar lev­els by catch­ing glu­cose and al­low­ing the body to ab­sorb it over time. This can help pre­vent dan­ger­ous spikes in blood sugar, and thus can be a use­ful tool for di­a­bet­ics.

The abil­ity of sol­u­ble fibers to col­lect free wa­ter in­side the large in­tes­tine helps pre­vent di­ar­rhea. Futher­more, it is fer­mented by the bac­te­ria in the large in­tes­tine, re­sult­ing in short-chain fatty acids that are ab­sorbed and used for en­ergy.

IN­SOL­U­BLE FIBER While sol­u­ble fiber slows things down, in­sol­u­ble fiber does quite the op­po­site. It re­mains nearly com­plete all the way through the di­ges­tive tract. Be­cause it trav­els whole, it adds heft to stool and acts as a cat­a­lyst to speed di­ges­tion.

In­sol­u­ble fiber’s quick and bulky jour­ney through the body bal­ances pH lev­els in the in­testines, which may pre­vent mi­crobes from cre­at­ing can­cer­ous cells that cause colon can­cer and breast can­cer. The mostly in­tact fiber pro­motes move­ment in the di­ges­tive tract, al­le­vi­at­ing con­sti­pa­tion and pro­mot­ing reg­u­lar­ity.

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