Do you eat enough fiber? If not, you might not just feel it in your gut! The importance of a high fiber diet has been well documented throughout the years by researchers and nutritionists alike citing many benefits that contribute to improved bowel function. From fiber tablets to high fiber grain, proprietors have pounced on this healthy gut craze creating a large specialized market with fiber supplementation in the spotlight. This movement has undoubtedly provided intestinal relief to thousands if not millions. However, much like fiber’s effect on bowel function, the health benefits doesn’t stop in the gut.
Research involving gut microbiota composition on cognitive function and health, also known as the gut-brain axis, has increasingly found that gut and brain health are intertwined. This promising trend has encouraged the implementation of more studies into this area and possible connected factors. One of these factors could be fiber, as one group from Weill Medical College of Cornell University believes, to improve cognitive function in addition to intestinal health. In an article published in ScienceDirect, researchers focus in on a short chain fatty acid (SCFA), known as butyrate, as a potential therapeutic option for the improvement of neurological health.
While digestible fiber contributes to the improved health of intestinal lining, not all fiber is digestible by our gut. Some otherwise indigestible fiber that passes through our intestine makes its way to the colon, where colonocytes break down this fiber into butyrate, which serves as a primary source of energy for bacteria in our colon. As essential as butyrate is to the metabolism of colonocytes, butyrate provides multiple health benefits to humans that are significant to neurological function. As stated in this research group’s article, butyrate also serves as a histone deacetylase inhibitor, which has been proven to prevent mechanisms of neurodegenerative disease. Butyrate can also serve as a source of energy for the brain; this can serve as a counter to the brain’s decrease in energy production in the early stages of neurological disease. Lastly, butyrate can serve as a G protein-coupled receptor activator, which is an important aspect for the maintenance of physiological function such as homeostasis.
In theory, by increasing fiber intake in our diet, butyrate production by colonocytes will subsequently increase. In doing so, circulatory levels of butyrate will be elevated, thus improving neurological health. However, much more research will have to be done to determine the metabolic effect of gut-derived butyrate on the brain. In doing so, multiple factors such as levels of butyrate production and intestinal microbiome composition will have to be studied in relation to their neurological effects. Nonetheless, this is all the more reason to make sure you include fiber in your diet!