Did You Know That This Commonly-Skipped Nutrient Is Essential For Immune Health?

by
Dr. Ariel Thorpe

Many people know some of the benefits of eating an adequately fibrous diet: keep your stool elimination regular (prevent constipation and diarrhea), lower your cholesterol and decrease your chances of colorectal cancer. However, fibre is also essential for immune health in a surprising way. People suffering with allergies and asthma will find this particularly helpful. Read on to learn how to make a small change in diet to decrease allergic responses and decrease asthma attacks.

There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Both soluble and insoluble fibre allow more water into stools, making it easier to pass stools. Soluble fibre types like beta-glucan, psyllium, and raw guar gum, are gel-forming, making stools smoother and easier to pass. Insoluble fibre like wheat bran mechanically irrigates the gut mucosa via water and mucus secretion. Think about insoluble fibre like a car wash for your intestines.

There is a further sub-categorization of fibre into fermentable and non-fermentable. While both soluble and insoluble fibre can increase stool water content for easily passable stools, there are specific types of soluble fermentable fibre (ex. Inulin, fructooligosaccharides, and wheat dextrin) which are not laxative and can actually have a constipating effect if your gut is not already healthy. However, these soluble fermentable fibres are useful as prebiotics (meaning, they are food for the probiotics in your gut).

Stools move through the intestines via smooth muscle contractions. However, motility being an autonomic activity, we cannot control it. 95% of the motor activity in the large intestines is segmental pressure waves (this serves to mix the contents in the bowels). The other 5% is propagating pressure waves (peristalsis; moving the waste along the digestive tract). The propagating waves move at different rates ranging from: 1) high amplitude, slow, and infrequent; to 2) low amplitude, fast, and frequent. The first type moves all large contents and the second only moves gas and liquid. Everything in between these two extremes moves soft stools and liquids.

The only way for us to influence the rate and effectiveness of motility is with the viscosity of the waste passing through. For healthy motility (and regular elimination), the only way to influence it nutritionally is with the type of fibre consumed. High viscosity means the contents are slow moving (ie. Solids) and low viscosity means the contents are rapidly moving (ie. Gas). By consuming adequate fibre, we can change the motility of stools and have effective peristalsis.

But what does this all have to do with immunity? Research shows that B-tells, T-cells, and mast cells are directly affected by dietary fibre. The conditions affected by reduced fibre intake include asthma, eczema, hay fever, and food allergy.  Mast cells live predominantly in tissues that contact the outside world, including our respiratory and digestive tracts (remember that from mouth to anus, the digestive tract is essentially a giant tunnel through our body and is absorbent of contents passing through). By eating enough fibre, our immune cells can do their job better. Mast cells regulating airways help allergic asthma and rhinitis. Similarly, inflammation in the digestive tract is better managed with well-supported mast cells.

To keep your eliminations regular and your immune system healthy, ensure you are eating enough fibre.

Sources:

https://jandonline.org/article/S2212-2672(16)31187-X/fulltext

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5992428/

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