The FIBER POST – What your doctor doesn’t understand about DIGESTION

The FIBER POST – What your doctor doesn’t understand about DIGESTION

Hey mate,

I hope this finds you better than ever!

If you want to skip to the prescription and summary, just scroll down to the CONCLUSION part and read from there. If you want to learn, stay with me, and read on…..( Special thanks to The Big Sis, Dr. Liana Ashenden PhD, for her help in researching and collating this post.)

Fiber – It’s all about POOP, Good GERMS, and your GUT LINING, mates.

With more than 100 trillion bacteria living in your digestive tract, there are ten times more bacteria than the total number of human cells in your body. These bacteria may account for more than 4lbs of your bodyweight.

Friend or foe? Well mate, that depends on the type of bacteria. But with scientific evidence mounting to show the importance that these microbiota in your gut play in health and disease, even your local doctor may actually think twice before handing you that anti biotic script – Woohoooo!

The types of bacteria and their population numbers living inside your digestive tract are affected by what you eat (diet), by drugs such as antibiotics, by the pH of your gut, and by how long it takes food to pass through your gut (transit time).

Something else that plays a particularly important role – the amount and TYPE of fiber that you eat.

Yes, I said TYPE.

NOT ALL FIBER IS CREATED EQUAL – and since most folks in the “health” industry cannot even tell you the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber, you need to read this, since most of them get this WRONG WRONG WRONG.

FIBER – the backstory

Fiber refers to the part of food that cannot be digested with human enzymes. Before manufacturers began to process and synthesize fiber, all of our dietary fiber came from plant foods. I’ve said it before – natural health through whole food nutrition.

Grazing animals (ruminants) such as cows, sheep, and deer can digest plant fiber in their four-compartment stomachs – this is why they are called ruminants, but we humans can NOT.

You can catch up on what ruminants are designed to eat (and what they are not) in my interview here with Dr Patricia Whisnant, Chairman of the American Grass-fed beef association.

Back to humans….

When you eat plant food, you digest protein, simple sugars (eg glucose, fructose, and sucrose), and complex carbohydrates (eg starches), but the non-digestible carbohydrates and associated compounds that make up fiber pass largely intact through the stomach and small intestine.

Drums please, for the two big types of fiber

1. SOLUBLE FIBER – the (largely) good stuff

In the large intestine, especially the colon, water soluble dietary fibers provide a food source for the friendly bacteria living there. This type of fiber is described as fermentable because the bacteria digest (or ferment) the fiber, producing nutritious short chain fatty acids that you absorb, as well as gases, as well as helping grow the population of your good bacteria.

We will refer to this good for you fiber as soluble or fermentable fiber.

 

2. INSOLUBLE FIBER – buyer beware

Insoluble, non-fermentable fiber remains mostly undigested all the way to the toilet. It can speed up transit time in some instances, can pull water into your bowel and adds bulk to your poop. And shock, horror, gasp can also worsen chronic constipation! (see below)

It can also inhibit the absorption of nutrients (you know important things like minerals) and scour and agitate an inflamed digestive tract.

Want a picture – imagine running some steel wool down the sides of an inflamed burn on your skin. You just wouldn’t do it. If you have an inflamed digestive system (and many many people do) then adding more insoluble fiber to the mix can be rank stupidity, since it is exactly like scouring your insides with steel wool.

Constipated? Think insoluble fiber will help? Think again: A small 2012 study solidly debunked the myth that consuming insoluble fiber improves constipation. In fact, the opposite was true – chronically constipated folks in this study received by far the best results going on a zero fiber diet. If you read the study, make sure you read all the commentary sections. (Stopping or reducing dietary fiber intake reduces constipation and its associated symptoms – World J Gastroenterol. 2012 September 7; 18(33): 4593–4596.)

Plants typically contain a mixture of both fermentable and non-fermentable fibers.

Chemically, by far the majority of our dietary fiber is carbohydrate in the form of long compounds of at least 3 (some say at least 10) repeating sugar units linked together.

The compounds are either called oligosaccharides (literally ‘few sugars’) or polysaccharides (‘many sugars’), and if you are ready to impress your dinner friends, include fructo-oligosaccharides (such as FOS and GOS), inulins, resistant starches, resistant dextrins, celluloses, hemi-celluloses, chitin, and pectins. Dietary fiber from eating edible plants can also consist of non-carbohydrate substances (such as lignins, gums, and waxes).

Long have many scientists argued that you must eat more fibre.

Scientists largely agree that, based on the research, total dietary fiber has the following effects:

  • Correlated with a reduction in blood total and/or LDL cholesterol (with a protective effect against coronary heart disease)
  • Reduction in postprandial (after meal) blood glucose and/or insulin levels (which may help people with diabetes)
  • Increased stool bulk and/or decreased transit time
  • Fermentability by colonic microflora.

 

Scientists disagree all over the place on whether dietary fiber:

  • Protects against colorectal (bowel) cancer – no investigative studies back this up
  • Heals or aggravates bowel inflammation
  • Increases satiety and weight loss

 

 

Almost all fiber research however, is based largely on EPIDEMIOLOGICAL research. That is, CORRELATIVE. Remember, correlation is not causation. More umbrellas in the street do not cause the rain.

 

However, when I hired the smartest person I know to research this article, she was unable to find many investigative clinical trials that backed up the so called “protective effects” of the correlative information on soluble fiber most Doctors take as gospel.

 

The direct investigative studies show a different picture to mainstream thinking, and clearly delineate between types of fiber, and the result on YOU, the human eating it.

 

I cover some of the research below.

 

Some of these effects may be mediated by the effect of dietary fiber on the microbiota, so let’s look at the happy campers in your gut, so we can see how it makes sense.

 

Technological advances in metagenomic methods have allowed scientists to determine a microbial community’s composition by DNA sequencing. This work has provided new information on microbial species and microbial genes (our microbiome).

 

Every one of us carries a complex and unique mix of several hundred to several thousand bacterial species, first inherited from our mothers via the birth process, then via breast milk and later from our relationships and other life choices and events (e.g. diet, exercise, geographic location, infection, etc).

 

People with severely disrupted microbiota (for example with serious colon infections or long term IBS) are showing positive results from transplants of fecal matter from healthy subjects – sounds yucky, but it works – good bacteria make a huge difference…. that’s right, pass the poop!

 

The bacteria are constantly growing and dying and replenishing themselves and they can account for up to 60% of the mass of your poop. What else is in your stools?

 

Water, insoluble/non-fermentable fiber (remember we said it bulked up your poop), dead red blood cells, mucus, trace amounts of fat, and trace insoluble mineral salts, and of course, bad bacteria and viruses.

 

Some studies have shown that one particular type of bacteria or another may dominate our microbiomes. The vast bulk of the research in humans is on Bifidodobacteria and Lactobacilli bacteria, but there are many others.

 

What you eat can influence which bacterial species flourish (probably because particular species prefer certain types of fiber – or substrate – to munch on), although the response varies between people and may depend what bacterial populations you have in your gut to being with. Short term changes in diet produce rapid – but short term – changes in the bacterial populations. For example, resistant starch causes a surge in Ruminococci and Eubacterium numbers, while resistant dextrin increases proliferation of Bacteroides. Resistant dextrin, inulin and guar gum inhibit Clostridium. Pre-biotic fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS and GOS) and inulin cause Bifidobacteria to flourish. (Inulin also increases Faecalibacterium).

 

Long term dietary changes may be necessary to alter the resident populations of bacteria in your gut. For example, the enterotypes mentioned above are strongly associated with long-term diets, particularly protein and animal fat (Bacteroides) versus carbohydrates (Prevotella). Interestingly, the guts of obese and lean people are also dominated by different types of bacteria (see below).

 

 

Soluble, fermentable fiber such as resistant starch and fermentable non-starch polysaccharides is especially important because it is digested by bacteria to produce short chain fatty acids, such as acetate and butyrate.

 

What’s so special about butyrate? It helps maintain the integrity of colonic tissues by inducing apoptosis (cell death) in damaged cells (which may be a protective function against cancer) and it is also a major energy source for colon mucosal and epithelial cells.

 

One of the advantages of a very low carbohydrate diet is that it makes it difficult for bad bacteria to survive. This can be awesome in the short term, and can assist in resetting the biome in favour of more positive bacteria. However, one of the disadvantages of staying on nothing but a very low carbohydrate diet for very extended periods is that you can sometimes provide very little fuel for the good bacteria to eat (referred to as PRE-biotics), and you need to fuel those guys for them to stay on the scene in good numbers. We cover some recommended foods to help this after the summary.

 

What about transit time? Faecal bulking due to the consumption of dietary fiber is in part due to greater bacterial growth and therefore greater bacterial mass in the stools.

 

Both soluble and insoluble fibers reduce transit time and increase stool bulk: the former through its stimulation of bacterial growth and the latter through its passage undigested through to the stools.

 

Now that you know about your microbiota let’s look at the health benefits of fiber (and especially the effect of fiber on the microbiota).

 

 

Fiber and Slowing Spikes in Blood Glucose Post “Meal”

 

I don’t really need to talk blood glucose reactions. Since everyone here reading this knows that IF you are metabolically broken, you can fix this pretty easily simply by following the Chris the Kiwi “Food for Fat Loss” eating protocol.

 

Fatties and diabetics who need help slowing down their bodies blood glucose levels after a sugar laden meal should JUST NOT EAT THE FREAKEN SUGAR LADEN MEAL.

 

My attitude towards using potentially gut damaging insoluble fiber to help “slow” blood glucose increases post sugary meal for metabolically broken individuals is the same as my attitude for diabetics who are told to eat according to the grain laden food pyramid and just “control blood sugar with insulin” – ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS.

 

I am happy to rant against this stupidity. I know better, you do too.

 

 

Inflammation and Obesity

 

Obesity is also associated with chronic low levels of gut inflammation.

 

Studies show that insoluble and soluble fiber have differing effects. No surprise, as understanding this is the entire point of this article. But when we get to the direct investigative studies….

 

One study showed that insoluble fibre supplementation does not reduce global symptoms of IBS or abdominal pain compared with placebo.

 

Another investigative study showed that soluble fiber improved IBS symptoms whereas insoluble bran fiber worsened symptoms.

 

Studies suggest that pre-biotics (which are fermentable) may reduce the risk and severity of GI infection and inflammation, including diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and ulcerative colitis as well as bowel function disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome.

 

The investigative study on chronic constipation mentioned earlier clearly showed massive improvements in chronic constipation and bloating by eating a no or zero fiber diet.

 

A lack of short chain fatty acids, leading to starvation of the epithelial cells of the colon wall, has been proposed as a potential cause of ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory conditions. Butyrate has been shown to increase wound healing and to reduce inflammation in the small intestine.

 

(Geek Box: Butyrate decreases pro-inflammatory cytokine expression by the lamina propria mononuclear cells in Crohn’s Disease patients via inhibition of NF-?B activation).

 

 

Conclusion

 

Dietary fiber, meaning the fiber that you eat straight from plants, can be good for you.

 

Catch Number 1: Not all fibers are created equal from your gut’s point of view. Insoluble, non-fermentable fiber isn’t digested by the bacteria living in your large intestine, whereas soluble, fermentable fiber is.  When the bacteria digest the fermentable fiber, they release fatty acids as by-products, which are absorbed by your gut and provide nutritional and other benefits to the health of your intestinal lining itself.

 

Love your intestinal lining, and she will love you right back with health and energy. Ditch the grains and cereals mate.

 

The fatty acid butyrate seems to play a particularly important role. It is the energy source of choice for the epithelial cells lining your large intestine. Scientific studies suggest that butyrate can improve wound healing and reduce inflammation in the gut, with beneficial effects on the epithelial and mucosal cells. It reduces gut pH levels. It also appears to promote the death of damaged cells (apoptosis), which may explain the correlation observed in large epidemiological studies between intake of dietary fiber and reduced colorectal cancer. The point to note here, of course, is that soluble fiber (especially butyrate-producing soluble fiber) has different effects from insoluble fiber.

 

 

Catch number two. You can have too much of a good thing. Bacterial fermentation of soluble fiber in your gut releases gases, which can cause bloating and discomfort (not to mention embarrassing social consequences). Too much insoluble fiber, which increases the mass of your stools via passing indigestible bulk, can also result in discomfort and aggravate an inflamed GI tract, and increase chronic constipation.

 

For people with inflamed guts, such as sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome, soluble fibers known as FODMAPs can exacerbate symptoms. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, and includes the pre-biotics fructo-oligosaccharides, galacto-oligosaccharides, and inulins.

 

 

Catch number three. Everyone’s biome, GI tract, lifestyle, and personal needs are different.

 

There is no exact “one size fits all”, sorry.

 

 

ACTION: So what do I do, Kiwi?

 

1. Eliminate artificially supplemented fiber from your diet. Many processed foods contain fiber additives, so always check the labels. If you wouldn’t look at the plant and think ‘I want to eat you,’ don’t eat it. (E.g. do you salivate at the thought of cotton, bark, or husks?)

 

2. Consider the evolutionary approach – get your fiber from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit. If you’re following the Chris the Kiwi diet, you have already eliminated grains, so you’re not eating cereal, pasta, or flour, and keeping legumes and diary largely out, your gut should be healhty. You’re eating plenty of meat, fish, fowl, healthy fats, and fresh or cooked vegetables. You’re probably taking Athletic Greens as well.­­­­­­­­ This diet should provide you with all the fiber that you need.

 

3. Choose plants that have relatively higher levels of soluble fiber and lower levels of insoluble fiber. (Chemically, soluble fibers are known as fructans, resistant starch, resistant dextrins, pectins, and mucilages). All plants have a mixture of both soluble and insoluble fibers, but the proportions differ.

 

 

TUBERS AND BULBS. Burdock, garlic, onion, yacon and yam contain high levels of fructans. Carrots and sugar beets contain pectins. Potato that has been cooked and then cooled contains resistant starch.

 

HERBS AND VEGETABLES. Artichoke, asparagus, chicory, echinacea, and leeks contain fructans. Fenugreek, kelp, liquorice root, and okra contain mucilage. Try also peeled winter squash, brussel sprouts, and green plantains.

 

4. If you have a sensitive or inflamed gut, reduce your total fiber intake, avoid concentrated insoluble fiber like the plague. Avoid FODMAPs, and eat all your vegies peeled and in heavily cooked or even better, fermented forms.

 

I hope you enjoyed this article.

 

Keep an eye on your inbox, more fun to come.

 

“100% Focus On Happiness”

 

That is mantra, and it starts with phenomenal health.

 

Best,

 

Chris “the Kiwi”

 

www.AthleticGreens.com

 

Ps. If you liked this, feel free to forward to friends or family

 

 

 

Recommended References:

 

Kok-Sun Ho, Charmaine You Mei Tan, Muhd Ashik Mohd Daud, and Francis Seow-Choen .Stopping or reducing dietary fiber intake reduces constipation and its associated symptoms World J Gastroenterol. 2012 September 7; 18(33): 4593–4596. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435786/


Alberts DS, Martínez ME, Roe DJ, Guillén-Rodríguez JM, Marshall JR, van Leeuwen JB, Reid ME, Ritenbaugh C, Vargas PA, Bhattacharyya AB, Earnest DL, Sampliner RE. Lack of effect of a high-fiber cereal supplement on the recurrence  of colorectal adenomas. Phoenix Colon Cancer Prevention Physicians’ Network. N Engl J Med. 2000 Apr 20;342(16):1156-62. PubMed PMID: 10770980.



Jacobs ET, Giuliano AR, Roe DJ, Guillén-Rodríguez JM, Hess LM, Alberts DS, Martínez ME. Intake of supplemental and total fiber and risk of colorectal adenoma recurrence in the wheat bran fiber trial. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2002 Sep;11(9):906-14. Erratum in: Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2002 Dec;11(12):1699.. PubMed PMID: 12223437.
 

 
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About the author
Chris 'The Kiwi'
So named because he comes from a little country in the Pacific called New Zealand where a small, fat, quasi-blind, and largely defenseless bird by the name of “Kiwi” is the national animal, and what we are called when we land in other countries. He is focused on using what he can remember from his studies for a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science and his cumulative years as a nutritionist and strength coach to help other people enjoy amazing levels of health and energy. He enjoys ticking through his list of life goals and meeting new people.
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