When gut flora are out of balance, the entire chain of ecology in the body is distorted. Researchers from the University of Illinois have found that this disruption may be partially to blame for the drastic increase in the incidence of several disease conditions. When dietary fiber is consumed, it makes its way into the bowel, where it is fermented by microbes. The furrowing away at the fiber produces chemicals that aid in digestion, and keep damaging types of bacteria at bay.
Foods that the individual ingests are more likely to go undigested because of a shortage of appropriate enzymes to handle the workload. As a result, undigested foods may pass through the digestive tract, causing inflammation and irritation to the bowel lining, and depriving the body of the nutrients it needs.
An epidemic of low fiber
Researchers speculate that the incredible boom in rates of conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, and systemic autoimmune conditions may be the result, at least in part, of a diet not just too high in refined or processed foods, but also seriously lacking in whole foods that could provide an adequate fiber supply. Dietary authorities recommend between 30 and 35 grams, but have found that the average consumer only meets about half of their daily fiber requirements.
Difficulty in absorbing the nutrients is further exacerbated by the fact that proper functioning of the immune responses required those nutrients to function. Without them, the body loses its ability to remediate the inflammation caused by the primary imbalance, snowballing the problem.
Vitality of an ecosystem
The researchers examined the effect of fiber levels on gut flora cultures with a small test sample of 20 individuals. All of them consumed an average of 14 grams of fiber per day – a representative sample of the larger cultural eating patterns. The participants were divided into two groups, and their diets were supplemented with a popular fiber supplement, or one from corn.
After a two week trial run, to let the body acclimate to the change, gut bacteria cultures were sampled. The increase in fiber, regardless of source, impacted the number of flora, as well as the number of individual species.
Bacteria cultures are found to be more stable and opposed to inflammation when more and varied sources of fiber are included in the diet. At least one of the types of bacteria whose proliferation is specifically associated with reduced inflammation increased in abundance after the introduction of more fiber. This gives the researchers reason to believe that poor gastrointestinal health, including chronic inflammatory diseases, can be healed by altering gut flora.