The Critical Role of Fiber in Optimal Health & Immune Function

The Critical Role of Fiber in Optimal Health & Immune Function

Fiber's benefits go far beyond digestive health.

When it comes to optimal health and proper immune function, there is no argument about the importance of fiber. We regularly get asked about exactly why it matters so much, so we wanted to give it its due, and also look at how to best get it into your daily diet in proper amounts.

Recent research has made it abundantly clear that insufficient fiber can lead to all manner of even deadly illness. Meta-analysis has concluded a remarkable 16%-20% reduction in the risk of death for people with highest fiber intakes. That's quite an impact by clinical standards.

Fiber is essential to good health.

Considering just how important it is, I want to briefly unpack some of the key aspects of fiber and ways to incorporate it.

For thousands of years, we have known that disease begins in the gut. Despite being an oversimplification, what is being acknowledged here is the key role the gut plays in immune function, which obviously then affects illness and disease. The fact is that three quarters of all the body's immune cells are located in the gastro-intestinal tract.

This is why fiber is so important for not only digestive well-being but also general well-being.

As we know, fiber is categorized into soluble and insoluble, depending on whether it dissolves in water. Insoluble fiber gets a lot of attention because its role in adding mass to fecal matter is so critical to expelling toxins, to preventing constipation, and to overall good health.

But soluble fiber is also crucial, most notably as a primary source for vital short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids  (butyrate, acetate, etc.) are fundamental nutrients for proper health. They not only line the intestine walls and feed and protect the immune cells -- recent research (published in Nutrients 1,2 Open Access Human Nutrition Journal) has shown that they are also a key factor in normal immune function:

* They promote T-cell development;

* They help modulate inflammatory responses to any invaders;

* They help direct immune cells to sites of infection.

What is happening that is so important is that fiber and its fermentational byproducts are working to gear up the immune system to be ready to respond to any incoming thrreats. This, then, works for optimal health.

Furthermore, these fatty acids have been found to have a direct effect on the genes that modulate immune function and longevity, and this is why it is so important to get both types of fiber into your diet. We have discussed the sources of soluble fiber in a previous post, but recent research was done with beta-glucan and the results were certainly noteworthy. Doses between 300 and 500 mg were given to subjects in the test group and assessments included a reduction in susceptibility to, and the onset, severity, and duration of cold symptoms; a reduction in upper-respiratory tract infections, an increase in vigor and vitality, a reduction in fatigue and stress/tension, and even an improvement in mood.

Fiber and its byproducts are an immune-boosting, health-creating powerhouse!

Combine this with the known benefits of fiber on metabolic syndrome -- the four horsemen of high blood pressure, obesity, lipid and blood sugar imbalances -- and fiber is a major ingredient in dietary health and longevity. With significant clinical effects on high cholestrol, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer, fiber is fundamental to bringing balance and good health.

So while fiber is important to regularity, studies have also shown it is key in combating metabolic syndrome, which is a big deal in today's world. There are plenty of examples of the clear positive benefits to cholestrol, blood sugar, and overall digestive health:

* Reduction in LDL cholestrol and triglycerides (in one test published in the Journal of Diabetic Complications, LDL was reduced by 15% and triglycerides by 25%!)

* Reduction in all-day (11%) and after-meal glucose (19%) levels, and glucose absorbtion (12%.)

* Reduction in appetite-producing hormones (lessening hunger.)

The list of illnesses and conditions positively affected by fiber is long, so suffice it to say, get fiber into your diet right now.

How much fiber do I need?

The AMA currently suggests 28-35 grams a day of fiber for men and 22-26 grams for women per day. The problem is that even if you eat well, it can be difficult to get 28+ grams a day from food alone. Statistics suggest that most Americans actually get about 15 grams a day of fiber, so well below what is essential for proper health.

Here is a short list of my favorite fiber-rich foods:

Avocado, Brussels sprouts, Orange, Sweet Potato, Asparagus, Turnip, Edamame, Broccoli, Pears, Apricots, Nectarine, Collard greens, Eggplant, Peach, Peas, Carrot, Mango, Passionfruit, Grapefruit, Prune, Fig, Plum, Guava, Apple, Okra, Beet, Berries, Banana, Oat bran, Barley, Brown rice, Quinoa, Bulgur, all beans, Tofu, Chickpeas, Flax seed, Sunflower seed, Chia seed, Lentil, Kale, Spinach.

But what about supplementing your diet?

Are fiber supplements worth taking?

This is another recurring question we get asked. There is no debate here: the best way to get fiber is through your food. A diet high in fiber will by its own nature be a healthy one. However, as we said, it is often hard to get enough from food alone. So supplements are an excellent adjunct for those who need it -- but only to bridge the gap. And it is worth pointing out that more is not better. There are all sorts of issues arising from too much fiber consumption, so be judicious. As always, if you are taking any pharmaceutical drugs/medications, talk to your doctor before supplementing fiber.

The most common and popular fiber supplement is psyllium husk (from the husk of the plaintain.) While this is a good option, we have a different approach. When we were designing our GREEN 33 superfoods daily green vegetable supplement, we felt it would be best to concentrate foods with natural sources of soluble and insoluble fiber in their natural form so they also contain the other beneficial nutrients. Research may show the benefts of supplements, but food-based formulas will always be better than supplement formulas,

One daily dose of our fiber supplement provides about 10 grams of both fiber forms in their natural (air-dried) state. However, this way, a broad range of other critical nutrients can be obtained at the same time as fiber intake is increased, which is not going to happen with a pure psyllium product. The specific combination of fiber and antioxidants, for instance, creates an powerful engine for wellbeing and longevity. We strongly believe this is an intelligent way of augmenting fiber intake to achieve optimal health.

Whatever your approach, make sure you are diligent about getting enough fiber every day. At then end of the day, this is one of the surest ways to maximize your current well-being and help you live a better quality of life for longer.

Related Posts: 
The Importance of Being Alkaline - Know Your pH ! 
For the Love of Food, What We Eat Can Heal
4 G's for Anti-Aging: Garlic, Ginger, Ginseng & Gingko 

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The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.

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