Fiber and Digestive Cleansing

by Dr. David Williams
Filed Under: Digestive Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

While much well-deserved attention is paid to soluble fiber foods, it is insoluble fiber that provides roughage and improves bowel regularity. This natural bulk also gives feelings of fullness and satisfaction, resulting in less food intake.

4In the 1980s, there was a huge push promoting the benefits of fiber in the diet, particularly its ability to prevent colon cancer. Since that time, there have been conflicting studies, and, for some reason, fiber has fallen out of favor. I predict (something I do very rarely) that you will soon begin to see a dramatic increase in the ill effects of decreasing the amount of fiber in our diets. We’re already seeing an increase in many of these problems, such as widespread obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and numerous bowel problems.

Fiber has decreased dramatically as our food supply has become more and more processed. To make matters worse, low-carb diets like Atkins and South Beach often shun the complex carbohydrates that contain insoluble fiber or roughage. The most commonly consumed "vegetable" in this country is now French fries. Food manufacturers have increasingly removed insoluble fiber from processed foods, to both lessen the gritty texture and make ingredients easier to combine.

Insoluble fiber, the portion of the plant that can’t be broken down by your digestive system, provides a valuable service. The fiber absorbs water and swells, making the stool bulky, soft, and easy to pass. (This is why you always need to increase your water intake when you increase the fiber in your diet.) Without adequate fiber, bowel movements slow and toxic material remains in contact with the intestinal walls longer. The foreign material causes inflammation, and additional toxins are reabsorbed into your bloodstream. These additional toxins increase the workload of both your liver and kidneys. The slow-moving stools also lead to a condition called diverticulitis.

Diverticulum: Latin for "You Don't Want to Know"

In the early stages of the disease, as your intestines struggle to remove toxins and waste material, small, pea-sized, irreversible pockets called diverticula develop. Waste material becomes trapped in these pockets, which often expand and become inflamed, resulting in diverticulitis. If the pockets rupture, the resulting infection and inflammation in the abdominal cavity can prove fatal.

Not surprisingly, the treatment for diverticulosis (the condition before inflammation sets in) is to increase fiber and promote bowel regularity. At the same time, I would also highly recommend the use of probiotics and fermented foods like sauerkraut and others to help re-establish good bacterial flora in the lower bowel at the same time. I don’t recommend the long-term use of over-the-counter fiber products like those mentioned earlier. It is my experience that long-term use of these products seems to deplete various minerals, which can lead to all kinds of seemingly unrelated problems. This just doesn’t happen when the fiber comes from a wide variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, dried beans, popcorn, brown rice, and bran.

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