We all know we need fiber as a part for our diet. But until a few years ago, dietary fiber was not given the attention as it deserves unlike other food components such as fats, sugar, and proteins. Some researchers think that it’s probably because fiber is indigestible and of negligible nutrient value. Or maybe it was because it is easily accessible? Despite its availability, most Americans in this day and age do not get the recommended amount of dietary fiber. The suggested daily value is 25g per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet. It may seem easy to achieve but with the proliferation and popularity of processed foods, it is often missed. In fact, the average individual only consumes about half of the recommended amount daily. Luckily, with the exponential increase in the number of studies on fiber benefits as part of our daily diet, more and more authorities have taken interest on this roughage.
The FDA defines dietary fiber as a type of carbohydrate found in plant foods made up of many sugar molecules linked together. It is known to affect various physiologic functions like intestinal regularity, satiety, reducing cholesterol, and resolving numerous digestive issues. High fiber intake is associated with the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer. But did you know that dietary fiber can also reduce the risk of gallstones? It also helps in improving overall gallbladder health.
How Does Fiber Help with the Gallbladder?
According to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, sufficient insoluble fiber intake may decrease gallbladder surgery risk among women. In fact, participants with the highest amounts of dietary fiber were 13% less likely to have their gallbladders taken out. The type of fiber also influenced the output. When researchers controlled for soluble and insoluble fibre consumption simultaneously, insoluble fiber intake proved to be most beneficial. This research was conducted by observing 69,000 women over a 16-year period.
A separate study published in the American Journal of Surgery also showed the benefits of fiber for the gallbladder. The experiment made on dogs placed on a cholesterol-supplemented lithogenic (gallstone-forming) diet showed that the administration of dietary soluble fiber over 6 weeks inhibited cholesterol stone formation by reducing the cholesterol saturation levels in the bile. This protective effect is associated with a decrease in cholesterol that contributes to bile toxicity.
Obese patients on a rapid weight loss diet are prone to developing gallstones. A study done over a span of 5 weeks showed subjects who were given a fiber-rich diet were protected from the accumulation of biliary sludge. This is despite the fact that both obesity and rapid weight loss pose a huge risk for the development of gallstones.
4 Fiber Benefits for the Gallbladder
1.Reduces Cholesterol Levels
2.Boosts Immune System
3.Detoxifies the Bile
Reduces Cholesterol Levels
This is one of the more famous fiber benefits for the gallbladder. Although the cholesterol-busting mechanism of fiber is not yet fully understood, the hypothesis is that dietary fiber significantly impacts bile acid metabolism. Soluble fiber binds to the bile acids in the body and speeds up transit time to excretion. When this happens, the amount of bile re-circulated is decreased, requiring the liver to use more cholesterol to produce more bile acids, thereby reducing the amount of cholesterol which the body uses to make low density lipoproteins. Aside from taking part in the stimulation of bile acid production, fibers also help in controlling cholesterol by increasing bowel elimination
Boosts Immune System
Fiber helps boost our body’s natural disease-fighting abilities. Aside from helping in the detoxification process through its effect on the bile and excretion, a good amount of dietary fiber in our system keeps our gut flora balanced. When soluble fibers ferment, it forms short chain fatty acids (SCFA) that are important in the production of components needed for immune protection. Of course, it also helps that most of the foods naturally high in fiber are also the same food sources that are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
Helps Prevent Toxic Bile and Facilitates Healthy Bile Flow
A low-fiber diet can contribute to increased toxic levels in the body. This is because of fiber’s role in the reduction of cholesterol, metabolism of bile acid, and elimination of body waste. As explained in the studies cited earlier, fiber helps decrease toxic bile in the biliary system and it also prohibits the accumulation of sludge thereby ensuring healthy bile flow and preventing gallstone formation.
There are direct and indirect fiber benefits as our body deals with inflammation. Indirectly, naturally occurring phytonutrients found in most fiber-rich foods help reduce inflammation. There are studies that also prove that fiber has a direct impact on inflammatory diseases and oxidative stress. One example is the data from 27,312 women from the Iowa Women’s Health Study showing the inverse association between inflammation and the ingestion of fiber daily. A similar research among diabetic women of the Nurse’s Health Study showed that subjects consuming more fibers had lower values of inflammatory markers. Also, as a result of its overall effect in digestion, dietary fibers help increase the body’s production of anti-inflammatory cells called cytokines.
How Can We Get More Fiber?
The most commonly consumed foods like processed and fast foods are low in dietary fiber. Therefore, we must be very conscious and intentional in meeting our dietary fiber requirements daily. The ideal way of taking it is by distributing and taking it in small snacks and meals throughout the day. Below are common sources of dietary fiber:
Soluble fiber, as the name suggests, dissolves in water but is indigestible. It is not absorbed into the bloodstream but is generally fermented by bacteria in the lower intestine to form short-chain fatty acids. Types of soluble fiber include beta-glucan, pectin, natural gums, and inulin. The items below are rich in soluble fiber. Please note, however, that these are also in our “do-not-eat list under the Gallbladder Diet.
- Rice bran
- Nuts and Seeds
- Beans, lentils and peas
- Citrus fruits
Here are some foods high in soluble fiber but are also gallbladder-friendly:
- Swiss chard
- Dandelion greens
- Brussel sprouts
- Beet greens
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, does not dissolve in water and is less fermentable. It is also indigestible so it passes through the intestines almost intact, but works like a sponge that pulls water into the stool, making it easier to excrete. It can also delay glucose or sugar absorption which results in more even blood sugar levels, increase fecal weight to help stool pass more quickly and regularly, and help control and balance the pH in the gut. Some insoluble fibers include cellulose, lignin, some pectins, and some hemicelluloses. Below are examples of gallbladder foods high in insoluble fiber:
- Globe artichokes
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
Among these, I’d like to highlight the benefits of globe artichokes. Aside from being an excellent source of fiber (one serving contains a quarter of the daily amount of fiber recommended for adults), it is also contains inulin. Inulin is a prebiotic beneficial for the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
The collection of various studies and experiments prove the numerous physiological and subsequent health benefits of regular dietary fiber intake. It is not just a good ally for a better gallbladder, it is also an effective booster for overall health. Just a reminder, if you have a gallbladder disease, it is important to cross-check this list of fiber-rich foods to the gallbladder diet plan.
Gastrointestinal Society (2018) Fibre May Reduce the Need for Gallbladder Surgery. Canadian Society of Intestinal Research.
PAINTER, N. Occasional Survey.
Salman, H., Bergman, M., Djaldetti, M., Orlin, J., & Bessler, H. (2008). Citrus pectin affects cytokine production by human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 62(9), 579-582.
Schwesinger, W. H., Kurtin, W. E., Page, C. P., Stewart, R. M., & Johnson, R. (1999). Soluble dietary fiber protects against cholesterol gallstone formation. The American journal of surgery, 177(4), 307-310.
Slavin, J. (2013) Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. Nutrients 2013, 5(4), 1417-1435; doi:10.3390/nu5041417.
Slavin, J. L. (1987). Dietary fiber: classification, chemical analyses, and food sources. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 87(9), 1164-1171.
Slavin, J. L., Savarino, V., Paredes-Diaz, A., & Fotopoulos, G. (2009). A review of the role of soluble fiber in health with specific reference to wheat dextrin. Journal of International Medical Research, 37(1), 1-17.
Sulaberidze, G., Okujava, M., Liluashvili, K., Tughushi, M., & Bezarashvili, S. (2014). Dietary fiber’s benefit for gallstone disease prevention during rapid weight loss in obese patients. Georgian Med News, 231, 95-99.
Tungland, B. C., & Meyer, D. (2002). Nondigestible oligo‐and polysaccharides (Dietary Fiber): their physiology and role in human health and food. Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety, 1(3), 90-109.