The “Non-Nutrient” That’s Finally Getting Respect
By Dr. Myatt
It used to be dismissed as mere “roughage” – good only for keeping the bowel regular.
It’s not a “sexy supplement” or a “new breakthrough” even though Conventional Medicine is acting like they’ve just discovered it’s benefits.
In fact, it’s not even officially classified as a nutrient, though the FDA has recognized it’s benefits and is allowing food manufacturers to place “Heart-Healthy” claims on the labels of products that contain it.
On average, Americans get only 10% of the amount we consumed 100 years ago, and our health may be seriously suffering as a result.
What is this important “non nutrient” that we’re missing? Dietary fiber.
You might have seen the study of nearly 400,000 people, conducted by the National Institutes of Health and American Association of Retired People and published in The Archives Of Internal Medicine showing that men aged 50 and older who ate the most fiber were up to 56 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases and respiratory ailments, compared to those who ate the least.
For women aged 50 and up, a high-fiber diet lowered risk of death from these causes by nearly 60 percent.
WOW – I’ll have some of that – sign me up!
If fiber was a patented drug we would be hearing all about it, with doctors writing prescriptions for it like they do for blood pressure drugs or cholesterol pills – but it’s not, so it doesn’t get much respect from Conventional Medicine or Big Pharma.
“Fiber” refers to a number of indigestible carbohydrates found in the outer layers of plants. Humans lack enzymes to break down most types of fiber, so they pass through the digestive system relatively unchanged and do not provide nutrients or significant calories – hence the derogatory term “roughage.”
In spite of this indigestibility, fiber has a surprising number of health benefits. In fact, as the recent NIH / AARP study confirms, consuming adequate daily fiber is one of the most important health measures anyone can take.
Twenty-Five Health Benefits of Fiber — Who Knew?
There are numerous “sub-classes” of fiber, but the two main types are I.) soluble and II.) insoluble fiber. Both types are beneficial to health and both typically occur together in nature. They each offer independent health benefits. Here are twenty-five known health benefits that fiber provides.
1.) Relieves constipation. Insoluble fiber absorbs large amounts of water in the colon. This makes stools softer and easier to pass. Most people who increase fiber intake will notice improved bowel function in 31-39 hours.
2.) Relieves diarrhea. It may seem paradoxical that a substance which helps constipation also helps diarrhea, but that’s just what fiber does. Insoluble fiber binds watery stool in the colon, helping turn “watery” into “formed.” Fiber is known to offer significant improvement to those with diarrhea.
3.) Helps prevent hemorrhoids. Constipation is a leading cause of hemorrhoids. Because fiber-rich stools are easier to pass, less straining is necessary. Diets high in fiber have been shown to prevent and relieve hemorrhoids.
4.) Reduces risk of diverticular disease. In cultures that consume high-fiber diets, diverticular disease is relatively unknown. That’s because high fiber intake “exercises” the colon, prevents excess bowel gas and absorbs toxins, all of which lead to the “bowel herniation” disease known as diverticulitis. Increased fiber intake is currently recommended in Western medicine as primary prevention for the disease.
5.) Helps Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is characterized by constipation, diarrhea, or alternating constipation/diarrhea. Regardless of type, increased fiber intake has been shown to improve IBS symptoms.
6.) Improves bowel flora. “Flora” refers to the “good bugs” (healthy bacteria) that colonize the large intestine (colon). Antibiotics, drugs, food allergies, high sugar diets and junk food alter this “bowel garden” in favor of the “bad bugs.” Certain types of fiber are rich in substances the “feed” bowel flora and help keep the balance of good bacteria in the colon at a normal level.
7.) Helps prevent colon cancer. Although research has been controversial, observational studies in the 1970s showed that African natives consuming high-fiber diets had a much lower incidence of colorectal carcinoma. Since the “risk” of increased fiber consumption is so small, the “US Pharmacist,” states…
“…with no clearly negative data about fiber, it makes sense to increase fiber intake just in case the positive studies did reveal an actual link. The patient will also experience the ancillary benefits of fiber consumption, such as reduction in cholesterol (with psyllium), prevention of constipation, and reducing risk of hemorrhoids.”
8.) Appendicitis: studies show a correlation between the development of appendicitis and low fiber intake. A diet high in fiber may help prevent appendicitis.
Whew… that’s just the bowel benefits! Fiber also helps prevent heart disease in multiple ways.
9.) Lowers Total cholesterol. According to the FDA, soluble fiber meets the standard for reduction of risk from coronary heart disease. Psyllium husk is also able to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease as it contains a soluble fiber similar to beta-glucan.
10.) Lowers triglycerides. Higher dietary fiber is associated with lower triglyceride levels.
11.) Raises HDL. Fiber may even raise HDL — the “good cholesterol” — levels.
12.) Lowers LDL Cholesterol. In addition to total cholesterol, increased fiber lowers LDL — the “bad cholesterol” — levels.
13.) Aids Weight loss. Fiber helps prevent weight gain and assists weight loss several ways. The “bulking action” of fiber leads to an earlier feeling of satiety, meaning that one feels satisfied with less high-calorie food when the meal contains a lot of fiber. Fiber helps bind and absorb dietary fat, making it less available for assimilation. This means that some fat may be “lost” through the digestive tract when the meal is high in insoluble fiber.
14.) Lowers Overall risk of Coronary Artery Disease. Perhaps because of a combination of the above-listed lipid-normalizing factors, some studies have shown an overall protective effect of higher fiber intake against coronary heart disease.
Fiber also benefits blood sugar levels and diabetes…
15.) Helps Type I Diabetes. Eaten with meals, high-fiber supplements like guar gum reduced the rise in blood sugar following meals in people with type 1 diabetes. In one trial, a low-glycemic-index diet containing 50 grams of daily fiber improved blood sugar control and helped prevent hypoglycemic episodes in people with type 1 diabetes taking two or more insulin injections per day.
16.) Improves Type II Diabetes. High-fiber diets have been shown to work better in controlling diabetes than the American Diabetic Association (ADA)-recommended diet, and may control blood sugar levels as well as oral diabetic drugs.
One study compared participants eating the the ADA diet (supplying 24 grams of daily fiber) or a high-fiber diet (containing 50 grams daily fiber) for six weeks. Those eating the high-fiber diet for six weeks had an average 10% lower glucose level than people eating the ADA diet. Insulin levels were 12% lower in the high-fiber group compared to those in the ADA diet group. The high fiber group also had decreased glycosylated hemoglobin levels, a measure of long-term blood glucose regulation.
High-fiber supplements such as psyllium, guar gum and pectin have shown improved glucose tolerance.
More systemic benefits of fiber:
17.) Gallstone prevention. Rapid digestion of carbohydrates leads to fast release of glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream. In response, the body releases large amounts of insulin. High insulin levels contribute to gallstone formation. Because dietary fiber slows the release of carbohydrates (and corresponding insulin), fiber helps prevent gallstone formation.
18.) Kidney stone prevention. Low intakes of dietary fiber have been found to correlate with increased kidney stone formation, and higher intakes of fiber appear to be protective against stone formation.
19.) Varicose veins. “Straining at stool” caused by fiber-deficiency constipation, has been found in some studies to cause varicose veins. Populations with lower fiber intakes have higher rates of varicosities.
Fiber may even be important in prevention of certain types of cancer…
20.) Colon Cancer Prevention. Diets higher in fiber have been shown in some studies to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
21.) Breast cancer prevention. Higher fiber diets are associated with lower breast cancer risk. Some studies have shown up to a 50% decreased risk with higher fiber intakes. After diagnosis, a high fiber diet may decrease the risk of breast cancer reoccurrence.
22.) Pancreatic cancer prevention. High fiber diets are associated with lower risk of pancreatic cancer.
23.) Endometrial cancer prevention. Higher fiber has been shown in some studies to protect against endometrial cancer.
24.) Prostate cancer prevention. Diets higher in fiber may be associated with lower risk of prostate cancer. After diagnosis, a high fiber diet may decrease the risk of prostate cancer reoccurrence.
25.) Cancer prevention in general. Some studies have found that high fiber diets help prevent cancer in general, regardless of type.
Recommendations vs. Reality – How Much Do We Need?
The average daily American fiber intake is estimated at 14 to 15 g, significantly less than the American Dietetic Association recommendation of 20 to 35 g for adults, 25 g daily for girls ages 9 through 18 years and 31 to 38 g for boys ages 9 through 18. The American Heart Association recommends 25 to 30 g daily.
Based on dietary intakes of long-lived populations (who typically consume 40-60 grams or more of fiber per day), many holistic physicians recommend aiming for a minimum of 30 grams of daily fiber.
In my clinical experience, I find that most people over-estimate their fiber intake because they are unaware of the fiber content of many of the foods they eat (see http://www.drmyattswellnessclub.com/rate_your_plate.htm).
Since fiber has proven itself to be such an important “non nutrient” for good health, increased dietary consumption and/or supplementation can be considered a wise choice for optimal health and disease prevention.
Beware of so-called “healthy foods” that claim to be “high fiber” – whole wheat bread products, granola bars, even “high fiber” pasta – many of these foods have only marginally more fiber than their regular counterparts, with every bit as much carbohydrates.
We wrote about this “honesty in labeling” problem in our HealthBeat News article called Low Carb Lies.
To help those who would like to increase their fiber intake while keeping their carb intake under control we have developed some great recipes: Dr. Myatt’s Blueberry Muffins, Dr. Myatt’s Fiber Bread, and Dr. Myatt’s Super Shakes.
Dr. Myatt has formulated an excellent fiber supplement – check out Maxi Fiber!
Additional reading and reference materials:
Dietary Fiber Definition Committee, Report of the Dietary Fiber Definition Committee to the Board of Directors of the American Association of Cereal Chemists: The Definition of Dietary Fiber. St Paul, MN AACC International March 2001;112- 126
Spiller GAed CRC Handbook of Dietary Fiber in Human Nutrition. 3rd ed. Boca Raton, FL CRC Press 2001;
Anderson JWBaird PDavis RH Jr et al. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutr Rev 2009;67 (4) 188- 205
Todd SWoodward MTunstall-Pedoe HBolton-Smith C Dietary antioxidant vitamins and fiber in the etiology of cardiovascular disease and all-causes mortality: results from the Scottish Heart Health Study. Am J Epidemiol 1999;150 (10) 1073- 1080 PubMed
Streppel MTOcké MCBoshuizen HCKok FJKromhout D Dietary fiber intake in relation to coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality over 40 y: the Zutphen Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;88 (4) 1119- 1125 PubMed
Bazzano LAHe JOgden LGLoria CMWhelton PKNational Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study, Dietary fiber intake and reduced risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med 2003;163 (16) 1897- 1904 PubMed
Schatzkin ASubar AFThompson FE et al. Design and serendipity in establishing a large cohort with wide dietary intake distributions: the National Institutes of Health–American Association of Retired Persons Diet and Health Study. Am J Epidemiol 2001;154 (12) 1119- 1125 PubMed
Tippett KSCypel YS Design and Operation: The Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals and Diet and Health Knowledge Survey, 1994-96. Washington, DC US Dept of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service1998;Nationwide Food Surveys Report No. 96-1
Wolk AManson JEStampfer MJ et al. Long-term intake of dietary fiber and decreased risk of coronary heart disease among women. JAMA 1999;281 (21) 1998- 2004 PubMed
Rimm EBAscherio AGiovannucci ESpiegelman DStampfer MJWillett WC Vegetable, fruit, and cereal fiber intake and risk of coronary heart disease among men. JAMA 1996;275 (6) 447- 451 PubMed
Pietinen PRimm EBKorhonen P et al. Intake of dietary fiber and risk of coronary heart disease in a cohort of Finnish men: the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study. Circulation 1996;94 (11) 2720- 2727 PubMed
Eshak ESIso HDate C et al. JACC Study Group, Dietary fiber intake is associated with reduced risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease among Japanese men and women. J Nutr 2010;140 (8) 1445- 1453 PubMed
Pereira MAO’Reilly EAugustsson K et al. Dietary fiber and risk of coronary heart disease: a pooled analysis of cohort studies. Arch Intern Med 2004;164 (4) 370- 376 PubMed
Brown LRosner BWillett WWSacks FM Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69 (1) 30- 42 PubMed
Pereira MAJacobs DR JrPins JJ et al. Effect of whole grains on insulin sensitivity in overweight hyperinsulinemic adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;75 (5) 848- 855 PubMed
Streppel MTArends LRvan ‘t Veer PGrobbee DEGeleijnse JM Dietary fiber and blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Arch Intern Med 2005;165 (2) 150- 156 PubMed
World Cancer Research Fund–American Institute for Cancer Research, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Washington, DC American Institute for Cancer Research 2007;
Schottenfeld DedFraumeni JFed Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. 3rd ed. New York, NY Oxford University Press 2006;
Nathan C Points of control in inflammation. Nature 2002;420 (6917) 846- 852 PubMed
Ma YGriffith JAChasan-Taber L et al. Association between dietary fiber and serum C-reactive protein. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83 (4) 760- 766 PubMed
King DEEgan BMGeesey ME Relation of dietary fat and fiber to elevation of C-reactive protein. Am J Cardiol 2003;92 (11) 1335- 1339 PubMed
Wannamethee SGWhincup PHThomas MCSattar N Associations between dietary fiber and inflammation, hepatic function, and risk of type 2 diabetes in older men: potential mechanisms for the benefits of fiber on diabetes risk. Diabetes Care 2009;32 (10) 1823- 1825 PubMed
Ma YHébert JRLi W et al. Association between dietary fiber and markers of systemic inflammation in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Nutrition 2008;24 (10) 941- 949 PubMed
Jacobs DR JrAndersen LFBlomhoff R Whole-grain consumption is associated with a reduced risk of noncardiovascular, noncancer death attributed to inflammatory diseases in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85 (6) 1606- 1614 PubMed
Aldoori WHGiovannucci ELRockett HRSampson LRimm EBWillett WC A prospective study of dietary fiber types and symptomatic diverticular disease in men. J Nutr 1998;128 (4) 714- 719 PubMed
Aldoori WHGiovannucci ELStampfer MJRimm EBWing ALWillett WC Prospective study of diet and the risk of duodenal ulcer in men. Am J Epidemiol 1997;145 (1) 42- 50 PubMed
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