FIBER AND PROBIOTICS
Medical science continues to unravel the versatile health benefits of a dietary fiber. Many supplement users have been confused by the different types of dietary fiber that occur in foods and dietary supplements. It is puzzling to many people why something as apparently simple and inert as dietary fiber, can exert so many different health benefits. In my books entitled “The Natural Way to a Healthy Heart” and “Natural Ways to Digestive Health” (M. Evans Publishers Inc., N.Y., 1999 and 2000, respectively), I review many health benefits of soluble and insoluble fiber and explain their mechanisms of action. Fiber promotes both gastrointestinal and general health. The importance of dietary fiber for health has been grossly underestimated by all disciplines of medicine; and even by the dietary supplement and food industries (see the book, “Combat Syndrome X, Y and Z…,” www.stephenholtmd.com).
Characteristics of Dietary Fiber
What is dietary fiber? Dietary fiber is best understood as material that is responsible for the structural integrity of most plants and their constituent parts. In essence, dietary fiber is made from many different carbohydrate units, but fiber resists digestion by the human gastrointestinal tract. In other words, fiber in the diet is not digested, even though it has carbohydrate content. Insoluble forms of dietary fiber pass into the lower bowel where they exert many different beneficial actions in the colon. Dietary fiber acts as a prebiotic, by promoting the growth of healthy bacteria (probiotics). Fiber is fermented in the colon.
I see very little point in taking dietary fiber without a good source of healthy bacteria that can implant themselves in the colon (probiotics). It is the interaction between the friendly bacteria of the colon and the dietary fiber that accounts for the health benefits of probiosis and fiber supplementation (prebiosis). Again, this is important synergy for the harmony of life. Healthy bacteria can be found in certain foods such as “raw yoghurt.” This is not the kind of sugar-loaded, fruit flavored yoghurt that fills the shelves of supermarkets. Probiotic dietary supplements are the best way of ensuring a supply of healthy bacteria for growth in the colon. A poor supply of healthy bacteria in the diet is one of the major inadequacies of the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Soluble and Insoluble Dietary Fibers
There are two principal types of dietary fiber, namely “soluble” and “insoluble” fiber. Fiber has a number of complex effects on body metabolism. Soluble types of dietary fiber exert beneficial effects in altering body metabolism. Soluble fiber can often lower bad types of blood cholesterol and smooth out blood sugar responses, after a meal. In fact, soluble fiber lowers the glycemic index of other foods, when they are taken at the same time. On the other hand, insoluble fiber is often regarded as a stool-bulking agent; and it can exert a laxative effect by holding water in the lower bowel. Retaining water in stool contents makes stools bigger, softer and easier to pass. In contrast, soluble fiber plays more of a “balancing act” in the digestive tract and certain types of soluble fiber, such as pectin, may actually help regulate loose bowel actions, in some circumstances.
The chemistry of dietary fibers is extremely complex and not always apparently relevant to an understanding of how to apply different types of fiber for general health and wellbeing. Several of the actions of different types of fiber are related to their physical characteristics and the end products of fiber breakdown in the colon.
“Smoothing-Out” Gut Function with Fiber
There are obvious advantages of dietary fiber intake in terms of smoothing out gastrointestinal function. Insoluble fiber holds water and results in the bulking of stools or relaxation of the bowel. These effects can counter bowel spasms that occur in the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or in individuals with diverticular disease (pockets in their bowel). There are more than 20 million people with IBS and even more people with diverticular disease. Diverticular disease is often present, but asymptomatic, in older people.
All types of fiber can reside in the colon and promote the growth of healthy bacteria. Bacteria in the colon use dietary fiber as a source of food and energy which permits them to grow and multiply. Healthy bacteria have been termed probiotics and dietary fiber is one of several examples of food for probiotic organisms. This is why fiber is called prebiotic material.
The consequences of the promotion of the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon are many, and healthy bacteria can have far-reaching health benefits such as the manufacture of vitamins for use by the body and the dilution of toxins taken in the diet. Many toxins “end up” in the colon.
Specific Forms of Processed Oat Bran: Superior, Complex Fiber Sources
Oat bran is a superior type of dietary fiber with several active components. One special constituent is a fraction called a beta-glucan or oat bran hydrocolloid. Not only can this fraction of oat bran fiber promote a healthy blood glucose level, it can lower blood cholesterol by a factor of up to 20%. In addition, this form of dietary fiber has been reported to cause weight loss and modest reductions in blood pressure, by unknown mechanisms. Oat beta-glucans found in special forms of processed oat bran fiber are produced by a patented process that was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture. These superior types of dietary fiber are often not present in many fiber products. Dietary fiber, in general, has found a special adjunctive role in the management of weight control and it is particularly valuable in the nutritional management of the metabolic Syndrome X. There is no doubt that soluble fiber has a special role in management of diabetes mellitus, of both the type I and type II varieties;
but soluble fiber, in the form of oat bran hydrocolloids (beta-glucans), can make real differences to levels of blood sugar that occur after meals.
Therefore, I caution that these dietary supplements can reduce medication needs in some diabetics. These effects may precipitate requirements for adjustments of insulin dosage and adjustments of oral hypoglycemic drugs (blood sugar lowering medications). Individuals with diabetes mellitus are strongly advised to have their blood sugar monitored to avoid episodes of low blood sugar and they should talk to their healthcare-giver about any need for the adjustment of diabetic medications. The self-management of diabetes should always be disclosed to avoided and supervised by a medical practitioner.
Fiber and Probiotics Provide Health Synergy
There are special types of oat bran fiber that are not only rich in the health giving soluble fiber (beta-glucan component), but they also contain the added benefit of insoluble oat fiber. This type of fiber is found in superior fiber supplements. It is not commonly recognized that glucans are among the most common natural promoters of healthy immune function that are found in nature (present also in mushrooms and yeast). This is a “feel-full,” weight-control trick. Probiotics have emerged as important in weight control tactics.
Keynote Summary: Fiber
There are thousands of scientific studies that show the general health benefits of dietary fiber and healthy bacteria in the colon. However, there have been few attempts to leverage the power of fiber and probiotics together (an important synergy). Combining probiotics with fibers produces a quintessential fiber supplement, presented in a convenient format, to be taken with at least 8 oz of pure water or a healthy beverage. I caution individuals that fiber swells in the digestive tract and people with swallowing disorders must check with their physicians. There have been rare cases where fiber may block the upper portions of the tubular digestive tract. Furthermore, fiber cannot exert its physical benefits in the digestive process without holding water and a daily intake of eight, 8oz. glasses of pure water per day is a healthy recommendation for many people.
In summary, the mixed fiber components of probiotics plus fiber provide food for the growth of healthy bacteria, as well as providing the major versatile and potent health benefits of soluble and insoluble fiber components. Probiotics plus the best types of fiber form a unique, new generation of dietary fiber supplements that has great potential in the promotion of health and well-being of many different body functions. There is little reason to take fiber or probiotics