What is Fiber?
When we talk about Fiber, we don’t mean Wheatabix or Shredded Wheat! We are talking about natural fiber, the portion of plant-derived food that cannot be completely broken down by human digestive enzymes.
So when we think about food, we think about proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and fiber right? Well actually this is far from the truth, it is much more complex than that. In fact our diet is made up of tens of thousands of different molecules that have different functional impacts upon our physiology.
Chronic Disease is a reflection of eating modern “food”. We have taken simple ingredients like plants, animal proteins and products, and replaced them with ultra processed garbage! So the question is, How does this relate to the microbiome and diseases?
Our microbiome depends on us for their energy, the food that they “eat” and they need FIBER to thrive. Foods that feed the microbiome need to have a lot of fiber both soluble and insoluble. This is something that the Western diet is lacking, some people don’t eat any fiber at all. Not only that, but all the micronutrients in food, especially from those highly pigmented colourful foods, for some, are virtually non-existent! Colourful foods deliver chemicals that are really important to our body and for use as fuel for the microbiome.
Short Chain Fatty Acids
Firmicutes are organisms that make Short Chain Fatty Acids. They use the fibers from plant based foods, water soluble fibers from oats, pectin from apples – a whole plethora of plant based foods – vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts. We have evolved with these organisms and have learned that they play a vital role in our health and given the right foods and environment they will work for us.
When we eat fiber, it enters into our colon, it is fermented by the microbes and in turn they reward us by producing short chain fatty acids (SCFA), and these molecules are what our gut cells need to thrive. Different types of microbes like different types of fiber in plants, called Polyphenols or Phytonutrients. The gut cells process SCFA and ensure that the tight junctions needed for the integrity of the gut lining are formed. So you can see that by eliminating fiber, we reduce our capacity to keep our guts healthy, thereby increasing the chances of Leaky Gut and the diseases this can lead to.
In addition, prebiotic fiber is converted by the microbiome into metabolites which are helpful for our immune system from the resulting acids such as Acetate, Propionate and Butyrate. These have a huge role to play in our body in signaling to our genes how to function properly. We now know that Butyrate for example, is used for stimulating our immune system to become more active and has been shown to protect the brain and is also involved in energy production. Acetate has been shown to increase lectin – the hormone that tells your body that you are full – stop eating- so appetite regulation. Propionate and Acetate also have an impact on the ability of the immune system to regenerate itself, repurpose itself or the ability of our muscle and liver cells to create more effective energy.
Do I have to be vegetarian?
It’s all about balance. You don’t need to be a vegetarian but having plant rich foods included in your diet is really helpful for the microbiome as discussed above. Moving towards eating foods that are much closer to their original origin is also very important.
Dr Denis Burkitt, moved to Africa and studied indigenous populations and came up with the hypothesis that the reason we have more colon cancer in the industrialized world, is because we are not eating enough dietary fiber.
Dietary fiber is metabolized into anti inflammatory compounds which are absorbed in the colon. There are numerous chemical and epigenetic processes by which this then prevents colon cancer. This supports the reasoning behind the claim that high plant based diets are preventative for colon cancer.
Heart disease is actually an inflammatory condition, not a plumbing issue! It is actually where the lining of your blood vessels get inflamed, get damaged and have to repair themselves, producing plaques and calcium deposits. The primary source of this inflammation comes from the Gut.
Plaque formation is not about cholesterol, we are starting to understand that cholesterol is not the demon it has been purported to be.
Specific bacteria, especially Bacillus Subtilis, secrete Vitamin K2. K2 is responsible for taking calcium from the bloodstream and helps deposit it into the bone. Vitamin D, calcium and K2 play a role together but it’s K2 that directs the calcium where to go.
Vitamin K2, only comes from our gut, you cannot get it through diet. So a healthy gut will help create more vitamin K2 which in turn reduce plaque formation by ensuring that calcium is directed out of the arteries and into the bones.
All inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, hypertension all have a direct link to the microbiome. Butyrate which is secreted from the bacteria Akkermansia Munciniphila and play a huge role in liver health which impacts overall blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and even the efficacy of certain drugs.
The American Diabetic Association have shown in studies that Endotoxemia, (Leaky Gut the traveling of a toxin from the lining of the gut into circulation) is the primary insult that triggers the development of diabetes and obesity. Metabolic or post postprandial endotoxemia is a fancy name for Leaky Gut.
There is no one size fits all. We need to look at each person individually and decide what is driving them down the path of disease. The research of the microbiome is opening up a new world to the understanding of disease.
Repairing the Gut
Is it possible to reverse metabolic disease? Can I turn things around? Yes you can but …
You have to change the way you eat! You simply feed the friends and not the foes. It doesn’t happen overnight. Once the bad bacteria have taken over, you have to starve them out.
How long has it taken you to get to this stage, 20, 30, 40 years? Make a change to your diet and you will see results, sometimes as quickly as 30 days. There is no shortcut or quick fix. Introduction of the right bacteria and spores redressing the balance will eventually ensure that the bad bacteria gets crowded out.
A good rule is to start with 3 meals a day with no snacking in between. This is so that you have time to digest and you also have some time with nothing in your stomach. As soon as your stomach completely empties, your Migrating Motor Complex turns on in your small intestine. It is effectively a house cleaning mechanism. The food, mucus and bacteria are swept out and cleaned up. So when we are eating constantly and snacking, this never happens and this can cause Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth and Candida. Often the symptoms of these conditions can be improved simply just using this eating pattern.
Omega 3 fatty acids are known to blunt inflammation. Eating oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon (well sourced) as well as chia seeds and flaxseeds will supply some of these essential omega 3s.
Ensure that you are eating soluble and insoluble fiber together with bitters. Bitters are found in coffee, dark leafy greens, zest of citrus fruits, dark chocolate and also a number of wild foods like dandelion leaves. We have bitter receptors throughout our body.
Eating bitters will immediately stimulate the vagus nerve creating mucus in the mouth and the lining of the esophagus, increases peristalsis to move the food through and allowing more food in, increases stomach acid aiding digestion, stabilizes blood sugar levels by lowering insulin and activating the liver, pancreas and gall bladder.
What’s great about all of this is that it’s never too late to make the corrections. One of the things about microbes is that they are very resilient and given the right environment they will flourish. We can reverse damage.
- Reduce your exposure to chemicals in the home, cosmetics and food.
- Increase your intake of natural dietary fiber which exists in roots and cruciferous vegetables. Seeds and nuts which contain soluble and insoluble fiber.
- Fasting can help your microbiome. Add around 12-14 hours of fasting each day. We need periods of rest.
- Introduce fermented foods to your diet
- Reduce stress and try to get outdoors into nature for at least 30 minutes a day
- Excercise, sufficient sleep and hydration are all also important
- Helping lower stress levels by practicing something be it mindfulness, tai chi, yoga, meditation
Take it one step at a time. Change one thing today and another next week. Rome wasn’t built in a day. This is a way of life and habits take time to change