While fibre has been a good cure as a bulking agent for exciting disorders like constipation, it has a dull image and has faded into the background behind trendier (and more commercial) food messages like gluten, cholesterol, saturated fat and sugar. Often it can be the hardest item to find on the food label.
But fibre’s fortunes may now be on the turn. New research in the journal Cell sheds light on how fibre works to protect the gut.
The new study showed that when the mucus layer is thinner because of a lack of fibre the gut is much more susceptible to infections. Microbes more easily cross the gut wall into the blood stream. As well as infections this also causes irritation and inflammation of the colon – called colitis. This is believed to be the basis of many common modern gut problems.
Most of us are eating far below the minimum recommendation of 25-30g per day causing a deficiency which could explain modern epidemics like food allergies and irritable bowel syndrome, which have been related to the ill defined and hard to measure problem of “leaky gut”.
If we ate more fibre and increased the diversity and health of our microbes this could prevent many diseases. It also suggests that real plant food as a source of fibre is better than processed or refined fibre produced industrially. This has implications for the food industry – and as with vitamin supplements reinforces the view that (although we don’t yet know why) natural is best.