Not all fiber is created equal: a deep dive into dietary fibers by stanford researchers

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When we talk about the benefits of dietary fiber, we often consider them as a whole.

But scientists from Stanford School of Medicine have shown that the health benefits can change depending on the person, the type of fiber, and the amount consumed.

Their research, led by Michael Snyder, indicates that fibers have different effects on our bodies and the microbes living in our gut.

Fiber: The Multifaceted Carbohydrate

Dietary fibers, found in a wide variety of foods, have been known to help lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other chronic diseases.

They do this by reducing cholesterol levels and promoting a healthier lipid profile. These fibers are a type of carbohydrate that our body cannot digest but are used by our gut microbes for their metabolism.

Fiber is a complex carbohydrate with diverse characteristics like length, branching, solubility, and charge.

The Stanford team decided to study the effects of two particular types of soluble fiber: arabinoxylan (AX), found in whole grains, and long-chain inulin (LCI), found in foods like onions, chicory root, and Jerusalem artichokes.

What the Study Found

In the study, researchers examined 18 participants who consumed a daily dose of fiber that increased each week.

The team analyzed blood and stool samples from the participants. They found that the fibers had different effects and that the responses often depended on the dose.

On average, consuming AX found in whole grains led to a significant drop in ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and an increase in bile acids, which might help reduce cholesterol.

However, individual responses were different, with some seeing little to no change in cholesterol levels.

Consuming LCI found in onions led to a slight decrease in inflammation markers and an increase in Bifidobacterium, a type of gut microbe that is generally beneficial and produces healthy short-chain fatty acids.

However, the highest dose of LCI led to an increase in inflammation and levels of a liver enzyme, suggesting that consuming too much of this fiber could be harmful. Again, these responses varied among the participants.

A Personalized Approach to Fiber

These findings highlight that the benefits of fiber are not as straightforward as previously thought. They can depend on the type of fiber, the amount consumed, and the individual consuming it.

These variations are the result of complex interactions between the fiber, the gut microbiome, and the host.

This suggests a need for a more personalized approach when it comes to dietary fibers. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach may not be the most beneficial.

Understanding these complexities will allow for tailored dietary recommendations and interventions in the future.

So, when it comes to dietary fiber, it’s not just about consuming more; it’s about consuming the right type and amount for you.

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