Women who get more fibre from fruits and cereals may be less like to develop diverticulitis, a common and painful bowel condition, a U.S. study from Harvard Medical School suggests. Vegetable sources of fibre didn’t make much difference.
A low fibre diet has long been linked to an increased risk of diverticulitis, which occurs when small pockets or bulges lining the intestines become inflamed. But research to date hasn’t offered a clear picture of whether some forms of fibre might be better than others for minimizing the risk.
Fruit fibre and certain fruits protective
For the current study, researchers followed 50,019 women who were 43 to 70 years old at the outset, and didn’t have a history of diverticulitis, cancer or inflammatory bowel disease. Over 24 years, 4,343 women developed diverticulitis.
Compared to those with the lowest amounts of fibre in their diet - around 13 grams a day - women who consumed the most fibre - closer to 27 grams a day - were 14% less likely to develop diverticulitis.
The findings suggest that people who are concerned about developing diverticulitis, especially those with a history of the disease and who are worried about another episode, should consider increasing their intake of fibre, particularly from fruits.
Women who consumed the most fruit fibre - around 7.7 grams a day - were 17% less likely to develop the condition than their peers who ate the least, at around 1.4 grams daily.
Every additional daily serving of whole fruits and specific fruits like apples, pears and prunes was associated with a 5% lower risk of diverticulitis. Some other fruits, including bananas, peaches, plums and apricots, didn’t appear to help reduce the risk.
More total fibre and cereal fibre lowered risk
Women who had the most cereal fibre each day - around 9.8 grams - were 10% less likely to develop diverticulitis than those who ate the least, at about 2.9 grams.
While consuming more vegetable fibre also seemed connected to a lower risk of diverticulitis, the difference between low and high amounts of this fibre in the diet was small and could have been due to chance.
Overall, the study participants consumed an average of 18 grams of fibre a day, less than the 25 daily grams recommended for optimal health in adult women.
Women who did get at least 25 grams of fibre a day were 13% less likely to develop diverticulitis than women who consumed less than 18 grams a day.
The study wasn’t designed to prove whether or how fibre intake might directly impact whether women developed diverticulitis.
One limitation of the study is that researchers relied on women to report their own eating habits and diverticulitis diagnosis. Another drawback is that researchers lacked data on the duration or severity of diverticulitis episodes.
Even so, the results offer fresh evidence of the importance of dietary fibre for gastrointestinal health.
When we consume fibre, our bodies, along with beneficial gut bacteria, break it down into specific proteins that are thought to reduce inflammation which could predispose to diverticulitis. Fibre may also influence the motility of our colon which affects the risk of diverticulitis.”
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