Dietary fiber is good for you, except when it’s not

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Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract and is divided into Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

IBD symptoms may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stools, weight loss, late puberty, and long-term risk of colorectal cancer.

The exact cause is unknown, but some risk factors include genetics, diet, environmental factors, and changes in the gut microbes.

In a study, scientists found people who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease may soon have access to personalized dietary guidelines to keep them feeling well.

They discovered that certain types of dietary fiber cause an inflammatory response in some patients, causing symptoms to worsen.

Unlike most of the food we eat, fiber is not digested in the small intestine. Tiny bacteria and fungi or “microbiota” in the large intestine or colon produce enzymes to ferment fiber.

Chemically, fiber can be a short string of sugars like pectin, which is found in citrus fruit, or a very long and branched structure that is harder to ferment.

The researchers have identified that specific types of fibers found in foods such as artichoke, chicory roots, garlic, asparagus, and bananas, are especially hard to ferment if certain microbes are missing or malfunctioning, as is often the case for IBD patients.

Fiber has a beneficial anti-inflammatory effect in most healthy people and aids with digestion, but researchers have found that select unfermented fibers actually increase inflammation and worsen symptoms in some IBD patients.

The researchers are now working to develop a stool test to examine the microbes found in each patient’s gut in order to predict who will have a negative response, so they can tailor dietary recommendations and treatment for individual patients.

The team says that the new dietary guidelines will not replace drug treatments, but should complement them so patients can avoid flares and get back into remission more quickly when they do experience inflammation.

If you care about nutrition, please read studies about diet that can lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and new vaccine made of dietary supplements could prevent COVID-19

For more information about nutrition, please see recent studies about the best time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease, and results showing vitamin D supplements strongly reduces cancer death.

The study was conducted by Heather Armstrong et al and published in Gastroenterology.

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