By Dr. Jason Dave, ND
Many of us have heard that we need more fiber and that it is good for our health- but how does it exactly manage to benefit our body?
Fiber goes through our digestive system, where a complex array of microbiota and enzymes reside to help digest and process our food. The breakdown of fiber by the bacteria in our gut unleashes a substance that has been declared the most healing nutrient in all nature- short-chain fatty acids.
Well, it turns out that scientists have discovered that these short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) hold the key to understanding fiber’s amazing benefits.
SCFAs are the substances formed when beneficial bacteria in our gut break down and digest fiber that we have consumed from our diet. In other words, our beneficial gut bacteria directly feed on fiber that we consume in order to produce SCFAs. These substances not only benefit our digestive system, but also play diverse roles in other parts of our body such as brain and immune health.
This is often why fiber is known as the “most healing nutrient in nature.” It is important to consume both insoluble and soluble fiber to help with the production of SCFAs. More information on these two types of fiber can be found in our blog here.
Let’s take a deeper dive into how SCFAs play an important role in our health.
SCFAs are the dominant driver of gut health and have benefits throughout the body. They help heal the digestive tract by preventing the growth of inflammatory, pathogenic bacteria, then neutralize and suppress dangerous strains like E. Coli and Salmonella.
One of the main functions of SCFAs is to provide energy to colonocytes, or cells inside the colon. This, in turn, helps to create an environment of optimal digestive health. Studies have shown that SCFAs promote gut motility (or the muscular contraction needed to propel intestinal content through the digestive tract during digestion process) and maintain the protective mucus layer in the gut which helps lubricate and protect against harmful bacteria and microbes in the gut.
Another important function of SCFAs is that they feed and allow beneficial bacteria to grow, while at the same time preventing harmful bacterial strains from growing.
SCFAs also repairs leaky gut by increasing the expression of tight junction proteins, reducing intestinal permeability.
Dietary fiber consumption is associated with lower body weight, reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes, lower total cholesterol and lower systolic blood pressure. SCFAs affect multiple actions to improve blood sugar regulation, glucose intolerance and insulin response. SCFAs also promote the release of satiety hormones that make you feel full. All of these mechanisms protect you from obesity and weight gain.
Over 70% of our immune system is found in our gut. The SCFAs that are produced by the bacteria in our gut play a vital role in communicating with our immune system and making sure that it is in balance. If our immune system becomes out of balance, chronic inflammation (or a prolonged period of inflammation) can occur. This type of inflammation is associated with many types of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and gastrointestinal illnesses. Research has shown that SCFAs play an important role in reducing inflammation, which can help to reduce the severity of symptoms in certain chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease. Another new area of research that is gaining momentum among the research community is the role that SCFAs play in protecting against colorectal cancer.
Your gut and brain are linked by a complex interconnected system of millions of nerves which allow for communication between each other. This means that the environment inside your gut (e.g., how much beneficial vs. harmful bacteria you have) can have an important influence over your brain and mood health. One example of this is the production of serotonin, or the “feel good” hormone. Most of our serotonin is produced in our gut and regulated by our gut bacteria. When levels of serotonin are low, it can result in depression, anxiety and lower mood. Research has found that gut bacteria promote the production of serotonin through the action of SCFAs. Another study found that SCFAs helped reduce the negative consequences (e.g., weight gain) during a period of long-term stress.
So as you can see, it is important to incorporate enough fiber into our diet so our gut bacteria can produce SCFAs- which lead to many positive benefits for our health.
Unfortunately, many fiber supplements on the market don’t provide enough fiber, taste bland, or provide inadequate amounts of fiber. Many of them also contain lots of the same additives and preservatives that are found in a Mountain Dew- yuck!
But don’t worry!
If you’re looking for a much more convenient way of getting a well-rounded blend of fiber (both soluble and insoluble), I highly recommend trying the delicious (how many fibers do you know are actually delicious?) Pineapple Chia Cleanse. Not only does it contain healthy amounts of fiber, but it also has plenty of prebiotics and probiotics to support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria which can help boost the production of SCFAs.
The benefits of SCFAs may seem a little too good to be true, but there is real science behind it. SCFAs are absolutely crucial to your gut health AND overall health.
By Dr. Jason Dave, ND
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