A study, published in the Journal Frontiers in Immunology, highlights the benefits of consuming fiber in promoting the cognitive health among elders. Researchers from the University of Illinois have found that dietary fiber prevents the inflammation of brain cells which may hinder the process of cognitive decline as an individual grows old.
Microglia or the immune cells in the brain of humans and mammals inflame chronically with age. Eventually, these cells start to produce chemicals that impair cognitive and motor function. This respective study found that dietary fiber can slow down this process effectively.
Dietary fiber promotes the gut flora by giving rise to the gut-friendly bacteria. These bacteria, upon digesting fiber, produce short-chain-fatty-acids (SCFAs) like butyrate.
For the study, the researchers employed young and aged mice. They were fed with either one percent low-fiber diets or five percent high-fiber diets. This continued for about four weeks. They, then, measured the levels of butyrate and other SCFAs in the blood and inflammatory chemicals in the intestine of the mice.
The results of the study showed that the high-fiber diet altered the gut microbiome in both the young and old mice. It also increased the levels of butyrate, acetate, and total SCFA production. In addition, a high-fiber diet significantly reduced the intestinal inflammation of the old mice. However, the old mice given low-fiber diet demonstrated intestinal inflammation which underlined their vulnerability of being old.
These results indicated that dietary fiber alters the inflammatory environment in the gut. Subsequently, the researchers noted the signs of inflammation in the brain by analyzing 50 unique genes in microglia. They found that the high-fiber diet effectively reduces the inflammatory profile in aged animals.
The researchers accredit butyrate to alleviate inflammation on microglia and enhance memory in old mice. This is because butyrate inhibits the production of dangerous chemicals generated by inflamed microglia. One of these chemicals is interleukin-1B. It is linked to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
Owing to a bad odor, people are less likely to consume sodium butyrate directly. The researchers suggest that eating more foods rich in fiber can practically and naturally increase the levels of butyrate. Thus, people can counteract the age-related gut microbial imbalance which potentially results in neurological benefits.
Jeff Woods, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at University of Illinois and one of the authors of the study, says that diet has a major influence on the composition and function of gut microbiota. Diets high in fiber benefit good microbes. However, high-fat and protein-rich diet negatively influence the microbial composition and function in the gut. Thus, diet, altering gut microbes, can be one way to tackle diseases.
Nutrition experts suggest increasing the consumption of fiber slowly. This is because increasing fiber intake too fast can upset your stomach. Moreover, they suggest drinking lots of fluids. This helps a smooth movement of wastes through the digestive system. Common foods that have a high fiber content include,
- Dark chocolate
- Chia seeds
- Split peas
Consuming fiber creates a sense of fullness which eventually leads to less eating. When you start following a high-fiber diet, you will naturally find yourself eating less! Only plant-based foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds contain fiber thus it reduces the consumption of meat as well. Adding more fiber-rich foods to your diet, helps you eat slower, enjoy your meals, and prevent overeating as it keeps you full for a longer time.