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The Importance of Fiber for Health & Well-Being

The Importance of Fiber for Health and Well-Being_carrying colorful vegetables

When most people hear the word “fiber” they think of bowel health; they imagine something that can alleviate constipation and prevent colon cancer. Which is partially true. However, fiber is also beneficial for preventing heart disease and diabetes, helping you maintain a healthy weight, and even protecting the brain and improving mood.

The Two Types of Dietary Fiber

Soluble Fiber

Soluble fiber dissolves in water, is useful for lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood glucose levels, by interfering with cholesterol absorption and increasing insulin sensitivity. It also helps with weight loss, because it slows digestion, making you feel fuller longer.

Insoluble Fiber

Insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water, is best for cleansing the bowels. It remains intact and adds bulk to your stools, by binding together the bits of digested food in your small intestines as they move along to the colon, while also drawing water to the stool to make it softer and easier to pass.

Fiber for Cancer Treatment

According to the January 2013 edition of Cancer Prevention Research,

“Phytic acid, a non-digestible carbohydrate found in fiber-rich foods, slowed the growth of prostate cancer tumors in mice in a study out of the University of Colorado Cancer Center. … Though phytic acid didn’t stop the tumors from developing in the first place, it significantly slowed their progression and prevented them from advancing to an aggressive stage.”1

Lead author Komal Raina, Ph.D. explained,

“[Phytic acid] cut off the energy supply to the tumors by decreasing the number of blood vessels and reducing the amount of glucose pumped into the cells.”1

So, even though phytic acid (also known as Inositol hexakisphosphate or IP6) does not prevent cancer, consuming a high-fiber diet could be highly beneficial to those fighting cancer.

Fiber for Heart Disease Prevention

A study presented at the American Heart Association’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism/Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention Scientific Sessions 2011, in Atlanta, Georgia, by Northwestern Medicine, demonstrated the influence of fiber consumption on lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease.

In the study, adults between 20 and 59 years of age with the highest fiber intake had a significantly lower estimated lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease compared with those with the lowest fiber intake. This is the first study to confirm that consuming a high fiber diet could lower one’s lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, M.D., the corresponding author of the study, stated, “It’s long been known that high-fiber diets can help people lose weight, lower cholesterol and improve hypertension. … The results of this study make a lot of sense because weight, cholesterol, and hypertension are major determinants of your long-term risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Fiber for Diabetes Prevention

Although scientists are fairly certain that eating fiber-rich foods – such as grains, fruits, and vegetables – can help protect against Type 2 Diabetes, they have yet to determine the exact mechanism that gives fiber its ability to prevent the disease.

Some studies suggest that fiber protects the liver, improves the body’s ability to respond to insulin, and reduces inflammation in the body. These factors, individually and together, could explain why fiber helps prevent Type 2 Diabetes. But there’s yet to be any conclusive studies regarding whether or not any, or all, of these factors, give fiber its ability to protect against Type 2 Diabetes.

Fiber for Stroke Prevention

A new analysis of old research suggests that eating a high fiber diet can prevent stroke. The evidence, which was extracted from eight observational studies with a minimum of three years of follow-up, indicates that for each 7-gram increase in daily fiber consumption, the risk of a first stroke decreased by approximately 7%. You can read more about these findings in the journal Stroke.

Fiber for Bowel Health

Fiber is most famous for its ability to treat and prevent bowels issues. The bowels are, arguably, the most important internal system in the Human body, and proper maintenance is of utmost importance. The bowels are not just at the core of Human Anatomy, it’s at the core of our overall health and well-being. When there is trouble there, you will eventually have trouble everywhere. To quote the British Medical Association, “Disease and death begin in your colon.”

The worst thing that can happen in terms of impending – possibly deadly – health issues, is developing an impacted colon.  

Signs of an Impacted Colon

  • Abdominal cramps can be a sign of something else, but if it’s not your “lady time” or you’re not a lady, it could very well be an impacted colon
  • Back pain could also be caused by something else, but if you have other signs/symptoms it’s likely being caused by an impacted colon
  • Constipation is the most obvious sign of an impacted colon
  • Rectal bleeding is another obvious sign
  • Small stools should be an obvious indicator that your plumbing is clogged, but most folks miss it
  • Watery diarrhea may be mistaken for something else
  • Frequently needing to strain is another good sign that you may be impacted, but it could also mean that you aren’t drinking enough water with and after meals
  • Change in urinary urgency, whether it’s more or less often. If it’s more often, your impacted colon may be pressing on your bladder and could cause incontinence; if it’s less often, your body may be retaining the urine to soften the old stool impacting your colon
  • Change in mood could be subtle or drastic. Feeling irrationally angry or just irritated for no plausible reason could be a sign of an impacted colon.

The Effect of Toxins on Mood

If you, or someone close to you, has ever suffered from a prolonged bout of constipation, you know that it can affect one’s mood. Just how drastically may vary from person to person, and depend on what chemicals and compounds are lodged in one’s un-excreted waste. In any case, you will find the following comment – from an online forum called Food Matters – both pertinent and enlightening.

Posted by Michelle (Administrator)

“A neurologist who specializes in brain cancer shared an interesting story with me last week. She was treating someone who had a very aggressive brain tumor. The tumor had been eradicated in the past but unfortunately after several years it had it returned.

“The outlook was grim, and there was no option but to use strong chemotherapy in hopes of lengthening life. The tumors responded nicely to the new treatment and the family was encouraged. However, during the course of treatment, this gentleman had an abrupt change in personality. He went from his usual congenial and pleasant self to being angry, impatient, and depressed—even to the point of throwing objects in frustration. The switch in demeanor was so significant that it was decided a psychiatrist needed to be called in at once to consult on the case and consider psychiatric medication.

“Meanwhile, the neurologist noted that the patient had been constipated for four days so an intervention for the constipation was ordered. It was effective, and after that — almost immediately — the man’s demeanor returned to normal and the consult with the psychiatrist was canceled.

“The toxins from the chemo, the neurologist explained, must have been trapped in his intestines and were affecting his brain and overall emotional functioning. She was quite surprised at the dramatic turnaround, as she’d never witnessed this before.

“This was an extreme situation, so the connection was obvious. One has to wonder how often something similar to this occurs. Medications, toxins, or allergic substances can be trapped in the bowel when constipated. The reaction may be less severe yet still problematic and puzzling.”2

While your mood changes may never be as dramatic as what this man experienced, if you are suffering from constipation, the toxins lingering in your impacted stool may be the reason why.

Modern Medical Removal Methods

Most doctors treat impacted stools from the outside in. A warm mineral oil enema is often used to soften and lubricate the stool. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, as is usually the case with large, dry, hardened stools, the impaction must be broken up manually, by entering through the anus. I imagine the entire process is quite unpleasant, but it’s better than undergoing surgery.

Surgical removal of impacted fecal matter is rare but sometimes necessary. It’s usually only done in cases where there is a complete blockage or the patient’s colon has widened as a result of the impaction. In such cases, doing nothing could be fatal.

Regardless of how the problem is resolved, most people who have suffered an impacted colon will require bowel retraining. Knowing that, and given the above choices, wouldn’t it be better to just prevent colon impaction altogether?

Preventing an Impacted Colon

It’s as simple as eating a diet with enough dietary fiber to keep everything moving along as it should. Dr. Lloyd-Jones advised getting one’s daily intake of fiber from whole foods, NOT processed fiber bars, supplements and drinks.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for fiber varies depending on age:

  • Children, 1-3 years old, both genders, need 19 grams/day
  • Children, 4-8 years old, need 25 grams/day
  • Boys, 9-13 years old, need 31 grams/day
  • Girls, 9-13 years old, need 25 grams/day
  • Boys, 14-18 years old, need 38 grams/day
  • Girls, 14-18 years old, need 26 grams/day
  • Men, 19-50 years old, need 38grams/day
  • Women, 19-50 years old, need 26 grams/day
  • Men, 51 years and older, need 30 grams/day
  • Women, 51 years and older, need 21 grams/day

As you can see, the requirement decreases as we grow older. This is due to fluid retention issues that tend to crop up as we age. Our body’s ability to regulate fluid levels usually decreases after the age of 50, and since fiber takes water out of the body, in the stool, we will need to drink more water as we age to ensure that we do not become dehydrated.

Keep in mind that the RDA’s guidelines for fiber are the minimum amounts required, and actual fiber needs vary somewhat among individuals. There is no Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for fiber because fiber is bulky and excess consumption is thought to be self-limiting. If you have ever attempted to eat more than two apples in one sitting, you already understand why.

A great way to ensure you consume enough fiber each day is to eat at least one thing that contains fiber at every meal. You could have oats and/or fruit at breakfast, nuts or seeds for snacks, brown rice and/or legumes at lunch, and vegetables or fruit salad at dinner. It’s very easy, very uncomplicated. You just need the will to do it.

. References

1 Valente, Lisa, MS, RD. “Health Benefits of Fiber for Men”. Eating Well, May/June 2013. Print and web. July 2017

2 “Digestive Conditions including IBS & IBD”. Food Matters Forum, n.d. Web. 2013

“Types of Fiber and Their Health Benefits”. WebMD, May 14, 2016. Web. July 2017

DE Threapleton, DC Greenwood, CEL Evans, et al. “Dietary Fiber Intake and Risk of First Stroke: A systemic Review and Meta-Analysis”. Stroke, March 28, 2013. Web. July 2017

K Raina, K Ravichandran, S Rajamanickam, et al. “Inositol Hexaphosphate Inhibits Tumor Growth, Vascularity, and Metabolism in TRAMP Mice: A Multiparametric Magnetic Resonance Study”. Cancer Prevention Research, January 2013. Web. July 2017

“Increasing Fiber Intake”. UCSF Medical Center, n.d. Web. July 2017

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