“Whole plant vegetable fibre” or “isolated & purified fibre extracts” – Which one sounds better for your gut health ?

For optimal health & wellbeing as well as keeping preventable disease at bay, maintaining a healthy gut is not a novel concept. Scientists, dietitians, physicians and even sophisticated consumers now bet on investing in gut health to harness the power of the billions of bacteria that live in the gut and the benefits they can bring to your overall health.

The best potential is delivered by feeding these billions of little support creatures with the food they love  – dietary fibre. Prebiotic dietary fibres are carbohydrates that our body cannot digest and remain intact in the small intestine. As these carbohydrates are not absorbed, the path leads them the colon (also known as the large intestine) and the resident bacteria will use the dietary fibre for energy through a process called fermentation. The fermentation produces gases (carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane) and beneficial short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs – majorly acetate, butyrate and propionate). SCFAs are important fermentation products that possess excellent anti-inflammatory properties (1). Butyrate for example is the main energy source for the cells that line our gut and maintain the barrier integrity. Acetate after absorption is metabolized for energy by muscles. Propionate is a gluconeogenic substrate that functions to inhibit cholesterol synthesis.

It is important however to appreciate the fact that the rate and the site of fermentation in the gastrointestinal tract is vital. This is particularly important if you are suffering from gut related issues including IBS, IBD, indigestion and the associated symptoms like bloating, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, and constipation. In this view, it is also crucial to appreciate that not all dietary fibres are created equal. Plant sources carry different types of dietary fibres — soluble, insoluble, fermenting, or non-fermenting and all have roles to serve in our digestive health. Other phytonutrients in plant foods with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacities like the polyphenols also provide many health benefits.

Most dietary fibre supplements available in the market today are isolated, extracted or purified forms and may present several disadvantages :

  1. Limited biochemical complexity relative to those from the whole plant sources like fruits and vegetables (2). They are usually stripped of bioactives and antioxidant nutrients that the plant source would inherently provide. These isolated dietary fibres tend to ferment rapidly in the terminal iluem (the part of small intestine) and proximal region of the colon producing excessive gas. Excess gas production causes the intestines to expand causing the intestinal walls to stretch thus producing the undesirable symptoms including bloating and abdominal cramps. This is an issue particularly in people with sensitive gut.
  2. Some isolated dietary fibres are known to only selectively support the population of certain bacteria e.g., Bifidobacteria. While Bifidobacteria are beneficial bacteria and common as probiotics, it is important to point out that improving the overall gut microbial diversity rather than targeting specific species is regarded as the most effective means of acquiring the health benefits. This is because a number of microbial species are interdependent on each other for fermentation of fibres to SCFAs. Bifidobacterium bacteria for instance are efficient primary degraders of certain soluble fibres to produce intermediate products (like acetate, lactate, mono/oligosaccharides), which are then utilised by other bacteria (like the Eubacterium rectale and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii) then produce the butyrate (3). Others like the Akkermansia species are major producers of propionate (4). Therefore, supporting the microbial diversity is critical to promote sufficient levels of different SCFAs.
  3. With respect to the rapid fermentation of certain types of dietary fibres in the proximal parts of the colon, the SCFAs produced may not be sufficient to provide the nourishment to the distal region of the colon. Demonstrating the critical relevance, studies in humans and animals confirm that the distal colon is the site of greatest organic disease with significant inflammation and altered microbial diversity. It is clear that the delivery of butyrate to this part of the colon may be especially important.

As mentioned earlier, not all fibres are created equal and in opposition to the limitations listed above a start-up company has found a way to turn the sugarcane into a total dietary fibre supplement (sucrose removed) — The product, Kfibre proposes excellent gut health management potential. It is a whole-plant complex dietary fibre sourced from virgin processed sugarcane and manufactured by using organic processing principles (minimally processed, low heat, no chemicals, GMO free) to remove sucrose and retain the biochemical complexity of both soluble and insoluble dietary fibres in addition to preserving other phytonutrients and antioxidants inherently available in sugarcane.

The virgin sugarcane dietary fibre is high in soluble and insoluble dietary fibre, is low in calories, imparts low GI benefits to blended foods, is low FODMAP-accredited, gluten and food allergen free.

Due to the retention of biochemical complexity, phytonutrients and the intact insoluble and soluble fibre fractions the sugarcane fibre has been shown to ferment at a more uniform rate through the entire colon length nourishing the proximal and importantly the distal colon.

University research has confirmed the excellent potential of this fibre in areas such as colonic inflammation, gut barrier integrity, influence the microbial diversity and boost the levels of SCFAs along the entire colon length (5, 6). In these studies, the anti-inflammatory benefits boosted even further when Kfibre was paired with a fibre-digesting probiotic bacteria as synbiotic. In addition, in a recent pilot clinical study, 3-week consumption of Kfibre showed marked reduction in digestive symptoms (heartburn, acid regurgitation, and total symptoms scores) in first time sufferers reporting heartburn (7).

This virgin sugarcane fibre was created in 2006 and in that time much research has demonstrated it may be a powerful new player in the “food is medicine” space and deliver the prebiotic health promises that have not been delivered by the isolated and purified soluble fibre market leaders.

The virgin sugarcane fibre product, “Kfibre” is already approved and on the market and if there is a conclusions to this review , the science says “if you take an isolated soluble only fibre supplement for gut health reasons, make the change to this whole plant vegetable fibre”.

By Dr. Tanvi Shinde, PhD

References

  1. Chambers, E. S., Preston, T., Frost, G. & Morrison, D. J. Role of Gut Microbiota-Generated Short-Chain Fatty Acids in Metabolic and Cardiovascular Health. Curr Nutr Rep 7, 198–206, doi:10.1007/s13668–018–0248–8 (2018).
  2. Williams, B. A., Grant, L. J., Gidley, M. J. & Mikkelsen, D. Gut fermentation of dietary fibres: physico-chemistry of plant cell walls and implications for health. International Journal of Molecular Sciences 18, 2203, doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18102203 (2017).
  3. Baxter, N. T. et al. Dynamics of human gut microbiota and short-chain fatty acids in response to dietary interventions with three fermentable fibers. mBio 10, e02566–02518, doi:https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.02566-18 (2019).
  4. Dao, M. C. et al. Akkermansia muciniphila and improved metabolic health during a dietary intervention in obesity: relationship with gut microbiome richness and ecology. Gut 65, 426, doi:https://10.1136/gutjnl-2014–308778 (2016).
  5. Shinde, T. et al. Microbiota Modulating Nutritional Approaches to Countering the Effects of Viral Respiratory Infections Including SARS-CoV-2 through Promoting Metabolic and Immune Fitness with Probiotics and Plant Bioactives. Microorganisms 8, 921 (2020).
  6. Shinde, T. et al. Synbiotic supplementation containing whole plant sugar cane fibre and probiotic spores potentiates protective synergistic effects in mouse model of IBD. Nutrients 11, 818, doi: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11040818 (2019).
  7. Beckett, J. M. et al. Anti-Heartburn Effects of Sugar Cane Flour: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. Nutrients 12, 1813 (2020).