We hear the word fibre all the time, but what actually is it and is it really as important as what people say? Yep, it really is. I dare say it’s actually far more important than we even currently know.
Despite constantly being told by manufacturers and the front label of cereals and breads that we need to consume a high fibre diet, the extent of its impact on human health is not extremely well understood. The current basic knowledge on fibre is that it helps us bulk our stools and keep us regular but it’s involved in so many other important functions that get overlooked. I feel that if it had been given the attention it deserved from the very beginning and our health advisors were educated on its role in the body, we wouldn’t see so much chronic disease. That’s how important fibre really is. Anyone who follows me on social media knows I’m constantly talking about fibre but I promise it’s for good reason. Please let me tell you why.
Fibre is a structural component of plants and it's found in plant foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Fibre is not digested after we consume it. It remains unabsorbed as it passes through our digestive system and mops up toxins, waste products and any unwanted excesses. Let me say that again. It makes its way through our body and takes with it chemicals, toxins and any unwanted substances. It is the real detox deal. It even takes unwanted cholesterol particles which is why it has such large links to preventing heart disease. With heart disease being one of the largest killers of all time, you can see why I feel its use has been overlooked.
Due to this action of fibre passing through our digestive system, it helps us bulk up our stools and is vital for healthy elimination and detoxification.
Fibre’s also incredibly important for our gut bacteria. Whilst probiotics seem to be the go to treatment for most gut related conditions, they do not play the only part in changing the state of our microbiome.
Certain fibres are the food our bacteria need to ferment and create a healthy environment. Whilst I fully support the prescription of probiotics and prescribe them often myself, I always explain to my clients that changing the state of our microbiome doesn't just involve popping capsules and supplementing bacteria. We also need to feed the bacteria. We can do this by reducing inflammation-causing foods, increasing fermented foods and most importantly, consuming adequate amounts of fibre. Its role is irreplaceable and probiotics are only achieving one part of the job. Having a healthy microbiome is 100% important so let’s not forget what fuels it. Some fibres contain prebiotics, which are compounds that ferment in the colon and positively change our gut microflora. Our colon and its counterparts is one of the most diversely colonised and active organs in the human body (containing trillions of micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and yeasts) and prioritising its health and activity has positive repercussions for the whole body. Namely, the health of our colon impacts our immune system (as the majority of our immune cells actually live in our gut), our hormonal health (certain bacteria help metabolise hormones when they are in excess), our skin health, neurotransmitter production and more.
Since fibre is indigestible, it virtually contains no calories that can be utilised by the human body.
Food manufacturers jumped on the high fibre bandwagon and started fortifying their food with unnatural sources of fibre. Just keep in mind that a fibre supplement, drug or a fibre fortified bread doesn’t necessarily mean the fibre is doing the same thing as a natural, plant-based fibre source. Artificial fibres aren’t always well tolerated by the body and the food its being added to might lack the nutrients that fibre foods contain.
It’s so easy to get fibre from real sources just the way nature intended - so endeavour to do that instead. When you read this list of foods that contain great sources of fibre, you’ll see how easy it is to achieve once you’re aware of it. The problem is that daily intake of fruits, vegetables and plant foods is just not being prioritised.
Medical literature suggests that eating a low intake of fibre is associated with an increased risk of colon, breast, ovary, endometrial and gastrointestinal cancer. To cut a long biochemical story short, there needs to be sufficient fibre mopping up toxins and unwanted particles in our digestive system, otherwise, they can cause damage to cells and start the inflammatory cascade. That's where we may say hi to chronic disease. Fibre-rich foods are also extremely nutrient dense, which is cancer preventative alone.
There’s another way fibre is cancer protective and it’s via the production of compounds called short-chain fatty acids. These are produced when fibre ferments in our colon. They not only help us metabolise important nutrients but they’re extremely anti-inflammatory for our gut. So many conditions are characterised by chronic inflammation in the bowels, so ensuring short-chain fatty acids are being produced via fibre intake always needs to be a priority. Low levels of short-chain fatty acid production have been linked to all kinds of worsened symptoms in inflammatory bowel disorders such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. When intestinal tissue is being so dramatically damaged from poor food choices, medications, stress, alcohol, smoking etc, short-chain fatty acids really are Superman turning up in a cape.
Research also shows that patients with Crohn’s disease were able to go into remission with increased short-chain fatty acid production. That is incredible and could potentially be a management technique for the debilitating condition that is Crohn's disease.
But let’s get back to cancer prevention. One particular short-chain fatty acid, called butyrate, has been found to help keep colon cells healthy, is associated with the prevention of tumor cell growth and can encourage cancer cell destruction in the colon. If that’s not amazing enough, animal studies have shown us that cancer development may be significantly reduced with sufficient short-chain fatty acid production and a healthy bacterial environment.
Fibre and short-chain fatty acid production has also found to be useful in diabetes and insulin resistance. Consuming the recommended amount of fibre has the potential to slow down the rate at which we absorb glucose, has a role in the prevention of weight gain and fibre rich foods increase the amount of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants in the diet, all of which contribute to the prevention of diabetes.
It is well noted in literature that fibre is important for bowel regularity. This is primarily due to fibre's ability to increase the weight of your stool. Larger stools increase the ease and comfort around passing a stool and reduce the time between making trips to the bathroom. Having a high fibre diet is in most cases an effective treatment for constipation.
Now do you understand why I feel all our health advisors need to be well versed in fibre?
So where do we get it?
Processed breakfast cereals right? Ideally not.
Firstly, there are many different kinds of fibre and they don’t all have the same function. One type of fibre-rich food won't possess all the benefits I’ve just mentioned, so it’s so unbelievably important that we get a diverse range of plant foods in our diet. There’s cellulose, hemicellulose, lignins, pectins, gums, beta-glucans, resistant starches, fructans and chitin. Some are fermentable, some do the mopping up and excretion of toxins, some bind to excessive cholesterol, some produce short-chain fatty acids, some slow the rate of our glucose absorption and others feed our beneficial bacteria what they need to thrive on. As we can see, fibre is extremely medicinal and we need all of it.
The good news is that most plant foods contain fibre but there are some definite standouts:
-Whole grains: brown rice, rye, barley and oats.
-Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, peas and beans
-Vegetables: asparagus, onion, garlic, leek, artichokes, tomato, root vegetables, cabbage family vegetables, potatoes that have been cooked and then cooled, celery, carrots and broccoli (especially the stalk)
-Fruits: apples, pears, figs, strawberries, raspberries, banana, avocado, apricots and citrus fruits
-Nuts and seeds including flaxseeds
-Other: psyllium husks
Take home message 1: Fibre is anti-inflammatory, helps create a healthy environment for our bacteria, is associated with the prevention of cancer, is effective for protecting our heart and helps manage blood sugar levels.
Take home message 2: Fibre is the real deal when it comes to detoxification. Skip the skinny teas, juice fasts and expensive detox supplements. Just eat a good amount of fibre - and make sure you're drinking enough water with it too.
Written by Dianna Bedran (BHlthSc, AdvDip Nat & Nut, Remedial therapies, Cert Hatha Yoga & Ayurveda).
We've heard it all before, a healthy gut microbiome (which is the home to all of our microorganisms such as bacteria) is essential for maintaining a strong gut wall and protecting the cells within. It's also important for our immune system as the majority of our immune cells actually live in the gastrointestinal tract - AND we need a healthy gut to ensure we are absorbing all of our nutrients.
But there's more to a healthy gut than just that! It has also been discovered to have a connection with women's hormones, particularly estrogen. Why is this crucial? Well, an imbalance of estrogen relates to a wide range of conditions that affect a large portion of women. This includes those with PCOS, endometriosis, breast cancer, pre-menstrual disorders such as severe pain, breast tenderness, mood swings, menstrual migraines, and any other estrogenic dependant condition. Estrogen has also been found to have an influence on prostate cancer, so it's not even entirely exclusive to females.
New scientific research has emerged revealing a link between inflammatory conditions such as endometriosis and lower levels of Lactobacilli (1), which is a particular family of bacteria that has wide-ranging benefits in the body, not just limited to the gut. What do we mean it's not just limited to the gut?? Well, did you know we don't just have a microbiome in the digestive tract? We also have an environment of bacteria in the female reproductive tract, so protecting the health of bacterias that can work outside of the gut, particularly the vagina, is just as important (2).
Now let's introduce estrobolome.
These guys are a collection of genes that are found within our gut microbes, that have a unique ability to metabolise estrogens (3). They do this by modulating the circulation of estrogen within the liver, which then affects the amount of estrogen circulating throughout the body.
A healthy gut produces a perfect amount of estrobolome genes, but modern day living exposes us to a number of factors that compromise our gut health and it would be unrealistic to suggest anyone has a perfectly functioning unaltered gut. Estrobolome are not only necessary for modulating the circulation of estrogen’s, they also impact its excretion. This means that if gut health is less than optimal, an excess of estrogen can occur which then aids the promotion of estrogen connected conditions. Now it's not all bad news - estrogen plays a beneficial role in many functions of the body, particularly cardiovascular, reproductive, cell replication, bone health, and fat deposition. So ideally, we want the correct balance of it. Estrogen is always needs to be considered in someone's health as its role extends beyond a women's cycle.
So, what to do?
Diet and lifestyle have a huge influence on the health of our microorganisms and related genes. Over use of antibiotics, the oral contraceptive pill, and lack of proper nutrition have a negative impact on our hormonal balance. As does stress on our microbiome such as refined carbohydrates, refined sugar, smoking, alcohol, preservatives/vegetable oils, lack of exercise and improper sleep. Reducing contributing factors and adding in gut supporting foods has shown to be promising. Eating fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pot set yogurt with live cultures (can be coconut yogurt) will boost your microbiome and help to start creating a healthy gut.
Supplementing with a broad spectrum Lactobacillus probiotic has also shown positive improvement because probiotics can assist in eliminating bad bacteria and correcting the balance with more good bacteria. This is linked to women's hormones because now we know that improper elimination of bad bacteria can contribute to estrogen excess.
Prebiotic fibres are also important, as part of their role is to create a perfect environment for your own microbiome to thrive. That's where fibre comes in. Magical for so many reasons, one of them is that it clears excess estrogen (4) as well as stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria in our microbiome (5). Great fibre sources include chia seeds, berries, avocados, oatmeal, brown rice, nuts, hemp seeds and psyllium.
These days we have so much accessible knowledge at our fingertips, but authentic reliable sources highlight a very similar solution: A well functioning digestive system, less internal and external stress, proper nutrition and good quality sleep is the key to good health. A balanced lifestyle is also key.
More on gut health to come, as it's a universe of life within us. Hippocrates (460BCE-375BCE), said it over 2000 years ago- "All disease begins in the gut". He was definitely onto something. . .
1. Bailey, M.T., and Coe, C.L. (2002). Endometriosis is associated with an altered profile of intestinal microflora in female rhesus monkeys. Human Reproduction Journal 17(7):1704-8. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/120938272.
2. Puca, J., and Hoyne, F.G. (2017). Microbial dysbiosis and disease pathogenesis of endometriosis, could there be a link? Allied Journal of Medical Research 1(1). Retrieved fromhttp://www.alliedacademies.org/articles/microbial-dysbiosis-and-disease-pathogenesis-of-endometriosis-could-therebe-a-link-6652.html3.
3. Kwa ,M., Plottel, C.S., Blaser, M.J., Adams, S. (2016). The Intestinal Microbiome and Estrogen Receptor-Positive Female Breast Cancer. Journal National Cancer Institue, 108(8). doi: 10.1093/jnci/djw029.4.
4. Hechtman, L. (2012). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Sydney, Australia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, p. 801.5.
5. Trickey, R. (2011). Women, Hormones, & the Menstrual Cycle. Melbourne, Australia: Holistic Health Group, p. 693.
Written by Brittani Kolasinski - Clinical Nutritionist (BHSc NutMed), indulger and lover of all things food!
Have you ever noticed the changes to your appetite depending on your mood? Or the fluttering feeling in your stomach at the thought of public speaking, or those first date nerves? – well, it may or may not come as a surprise to you that our gut and brain are more closely connected than we first thought, and, the science is all confirming this; referring to it as our ‘gut-brain connection’. They’re even going so far as to call our stomach the ‘second brain’. With this is mind, let us chat about all things ‘gut and brain’ and look at how one affects the other and vice versa…
An Overview of digestion
Digestion begins well before food even touches our lips. The very thought of food, the sight, the smell while it's cooking - this all begins to stimulate salivary enzyme secretion within the mouth, which ultimately begins the process of digestion itself. This process is referred to as the ‘cephalic phase’. These enzymes help to break down the food as we chew and then swallow, enjoying every bit! This continues as it reaches the stomach, with hydrochloric acid and other enzymes combined with muscular movement to further break down these larger molecules to smaller ones. Following this it will enter our small intestine, which is where the majority of our absorption occurs, allowing our micronutrients and broken-down macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Then they can travel throughout the body to their destinations providing our bodies with the fuel and nutrients it needs to function optimally.
Introducing your microbiome
From the small intestine, undigested fibres enter the large intestine which houses majority of our bacteria, referred to as the ‘microbiome’. These bacterias ‘feed’ (they actually ferment, but to think of it as feeding is probably more simple) on these fibres, creating energy for the bowels and other substances maintaining the health of our body as a whole.
In saying this, it is vital to eat a fibre-rich diet to ensure that the health of our microbiome is in-tact and promotes diversity of different strains of beneficial bacteria. In turn, a diet rich in simple sugars and processed foods actually feeds the ‘bad’ kinds of bacteria, promoting their growth. This can lead to issues with candida overgrowth (yeast infections/thrush), inflammation, weakened immunity and other concerns relative to our mental health such as depression and anxiety (Sonnenburg & Sonnenburg, 2014; Flint et al, 2014; Jameel et al, 2014; Brymora et al, 2011).
With new researchers stating that our gut bacteria may help to regulate and reduce conditions such as anxiety, poor mood, cognition and pain, it’s now thought that modulation of the colonies of beneficial bacteria within our bowels may be a strategy for treatment of more complex central nervous system disorders (Cryan & Dinan, 2012; Reardon, 2014).
Serotonin, for example, is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness and it promotes bowel motility & digestive function. It's also the precursor to melatonin (required for sleep). It is one of the many products that our microbiome provide, in fact, 97% of our serotonin is produced in our guts! (Kim & Camilleri, 2000).
Impact of inflammation
When inflammation is present within the gut it creates these ‘gaps’ within the lining of our small intestine, allowing not just our broken-down macronutrients and micronutrients to get into the bloodstream, but also larger, toxic particles to enter that ideally should be eliminated via the bowels. When these are freely released into the bloodstream they can end up crossing our blood-brain barrier, resulting in neuro-inflammation. This can contribute to feelings of depression, as well as other more chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s & dementia (Kelly et al, 2015; Eikelenboom et al, 2010).
The effects of stress
Stress will also impair digestion and results in inflammation. High stress can also deplete our levels of beneficial bacteria, and when our sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response) is enhanced our body will slow down other processes, such as digestion, menstruation in women, immune function and more (Moloney et al, 2014).
With the day and age we live in we are constantly stimulated and can go day to day in this mild, chronically stressed state. With working hard and long hours, being contactable via phone or email 24/7, bombarded with traumatic global news, time constraints and other relationship or family concerns to add to the mix, its no wonder our bodies are perceiving this constant stress as a threat, and therefore conserving energy from other functions (as mentioned above) to get you away from the threat itself, when sadly, the very threat is our constant hustle and daily life!
When we are eating in this stressed out state our digestive function is compromised. Less hydrochloric acid is produced for one, reducing our digestive capacity and resulting in heartburn, indigestion, bloating, discomfort and reflux. We might also be eating on the run or consuming ready-made meals which leaves out the whole first stage of digestion - the cephalic phase. For a large number of us this is a common daily occurrence and with the reduced digestive capacity, our absorption of nutrients is also reduced (Mönnikes et al, 2001).
These nutrients are needed for the body to function, by providing the cofactors for biochemical reactions to take place, for neurotransmitter synthesis – to optimise brain function and in turn help us to tolerate some of the stressors. Mindful eating is a brilliant practice that brings the focus back to our meal, the present time, how we are feeling while we eat, chewing slowly, enjoying every moment – not in front of the TV blinded to the mouth pleasure you're chowing down on (Dalen et al, 2010).
What else reduces stress?
-Movement - Studies have shown the benefits of exercise on reducing stress and improving brain function, memory and learning abilities. This is in part due to the production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) (Huang et al, 2014).
-Getting outdoors - Also referred to as ‘earthing’ actually has profound beneficial effects on our stress response, immune function as well as reducing inflammation (Oschman et al, 2015). Try taking your lunch break outside if you can, waking a bit earlier to get outdoors first thing in the morning, or even in the evening, walking barefoot through the park or just finding an inner-city garden to sit and let your mind wander.
-Meditation & relaxation – however that looks for each of us individually. Meditation & mindfulness has an impact on reducing inflammation, taking us out of this sympathetic nervous system dominant state and has also been shown to provide anti-aging benefits to our brains – incredible stuff! (Edenfield & Blumenthal, 2011; Hölzel et al, 2011; Jerath et al, 2006).
It makes a world of difference to take just 10 minutes out of your day, wake that little bit earlier to get in a walk, take time to sit and breathe deeply. It is vital to incorporate these soul-nourishing practices into the day, we are all worth the extra effort.
Take home notes:
For those food-loving, health conscious, eager-to-learn-more types you can find referenced articles, like this one, blog posts, recipes, food pics + more here: