Over the years, there’s been a bit of controversy on whether avoiding or consuming a diet rich in fiber is good for patients with IBD. Now, a recent study has revealed that while fibers might be beneficial, there are ‘certain’ dietary fibers that can have harmful effects in some particular IBD patients.

Their findings reveal that certain types of fibers can increase inflammation in the gut of select IBD patients, thereby worsening the symptoms. The interesting part about this finding is that the researchers believe patients with inflammatory bowel disease may finally get their personalized dietary guidelines. In other words, every fiber diet will be tailored according to the individual to encourage safe fiber intake while avoiding harmful fibers.

It’s worth noting that about 0.7 percent of people living in Canada have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Even so, this rate is expected to increase to 1 percent by the end of 2030, with children being the fastest-growing victims. 

Generally, digestible carbohydrates and other food we eat are broken down and absorbed by enzymes into the small intestine. Whereas, when it comes to non-digestible carbohydrates such as fiber, they are not digested by human enzymes. It reaches the digestive tract and becomes readily available for fermentation by beneficial bacteria or ‘microbiota’.

Unlike healthy people with enough microbes to ferment B-fructan fibers, IBD patients lack or have impaired fiber-fermenting microbes in their gut. Therefore, certain B-fructan fiber-containing foods such as bananas, artichokes, asparagus, garlic, and chicory roots are especially difficult to ferment — increasing inflammation.

Even though fibers are known to aid digestion among healthy people along with maintenance of the gut to prevent inflammation. The team, however, highlights that “not all fibers are born equal” and can worsen outcomes in some IBD patients. Therefore, extra selection should be done when exposing patients to certain fibers as some can be detrimental to IBD patients. 

Taking into account that most patients with IBD experience intolerance after consuming fiber. As a result, they’re inclined to cut it out from their diet altogether, including the beneficial fibers, which tend to worsen symptoms. According to the researchers, choosing to eliminate fiber from the diet as a result of too little understanding can lead to the consumption of a solely exclusive diet. Eating exclusive diets is more likely to lessen symptoms, but on the flip side, they may deprive the patient of the benefits of fiber, which are especially vital in IBD.

Researchers from the University of Alberta arrived at this conclusion after assessing over 100 patients’ biopsies between the ages of 3 and 18 years. The analysis took place at the University of Alberta Hospital. 

Currently, studies on stool tests are ongoing. The researchers aim to analyze the microbes found in the patient’s GI tract to easily predict who can develop an inflammatory response. In the end, patients would have access to tailored dietary recommendations for their benefits.

Finally, the team suggests new diet guidelines based on these findings should rather be treated as a complementary treatment and not replace the drug treatments. With this, patients can prevent flares and rapidly get back into remission when they experience inflammation.

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