Last week I wrote about how fiber improves our blood sugar and weight management.
As a reminder, fiber is the part of plant food that we can’t digest so our gut bugs can and do. And that gives us health promoting properties.
I also pointed out that we should be aiming at getting a minimum of 25 – 38 grams of fiber and the average Canadian consumes only 15 grams. Healthy indigenous diets may have 70 grams of fiber!
This week, I want to point out how fiber helps us regulate our cholesterol production.
Cholesterol is necessary in our bodies. It is incorporated into our cell membranes to promote stability and it is the essential building block of all of our sex steroid hormones (estrogen, testosterone etc, and vitamin D!). It is also essential in the production of Coenzyme Q10 which is a cell membrane anti-oxidant. It prevents cellular damage especially in the heart, liver, kidney and pancreas.
Excess cholesterol is associated with degenerative conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease in its many forms. When we make too much cholesterol, it ends up in places that harm us such as the walls of blood vessels and gall stones.
Conventional medicine responds to excess cholesterol with drugs that inhibit its production (statins). The problem with this approach is that it strips the body of its dynamic balancing mechanism and thus prevents cholesterol production for the important tasks. Also, statins don’t get to the root cause of the excess cholesterol production. One theory is that cholesterol production is in response to sub-clinical inflammation.
This is where fiber and our gut bugs come to the rescue!
When undigested fiber arrives in our colon, our microbiome (gut bugs) digest it. They produce a multitude of products that are essential to our health. One of these products is a short chain fatty acid called butyrate.
Butyrate is a small lipid so it easily transports across cell membranes and is distributed throughout our body. One of its actions is to reduce the production of cholesterol!
Excess cholesterol may be primarily caused by a low fiber diet and poor microbiome health!
Aside from the fiber-microbiome connection, fiber also helps to bind excess cholesterol in the digestive tract, allowing it to be excreted rather than recycled into our blood. This is another way that it keeps us from having too much.
How do you get more fiber?
Eat a wide variety of vegetables, beans, fruits, whole grains and nuts and seeds.
If you want to add fiber to your diet in the form of supplements (powders, capsules), here are some ideas:
– Psyllium husk or seeds – I like this source because it’s inexpensive
– Glucomannan from konjac root
– Beta glucan from a variety of sources including oats – It is also being studied for immune modulating effects (similar to medicinal mushrooms)