Dietary fiber for your bones: Researchers discover that increased intake soothes symptoms of autoimmune disease, leading to stronger bones

Eating a diet high in fiber may help fend off inflammatory diseases and significantly improve joint health and bone integrity, a study published in the journal Nature Communications revealed. The study also showed that the metabolites produced in a high-fiber diet — and not the intestinal bacteria themselves — play a central role in increased bone strength.

A team of researchers at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in Bavaria, Germany, examined mice models of inflammatory bone diseases — such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and ankylosing spondylitis — as part of the study. The mice were divided into two groups to assess the efficacy of a high-fiber diet in improving bone health. One group was given short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) supplements including propionate and butyrate, while the other served as the control group.

The research team then used micro-computed tomography to evaluate the animals’ tibial bone structure. The scientists observed that supplemented mice significantly increased their short-chain fatty acid levels compared with the controls. The experts also found that supplemented mice exhibited a marked increase in bone and tissue volume and bone mass. Likewise, the scientists revealed that supplemented mice had decreased trabecular separation and CTX-I serum level, which served as a marker for bone resorption.

Data from a histomorphometric analysis further showed that supplemented mice attained significant reductions in bone-degrading osteoclasts. The research team also noted that certain markers for bone formation — such as osteoblast numbers, serum osteocalcin (OCN) levels and mineral apposition rate and bone formation rate per bone surface — remained unchanged. The scientists concluded that the findings might hold potential in addressing inflammatory disorders.

“We were able to show that a bacteria-friendly diet has an anti-inflammatory effect, as well as a positive effect on bone density. Our findings offer a promising approach for developing innovative therapies for inflammatory joint diseases as well as for treating osteoporosis, which is often suffered by women after the menopause. We are not able to give any specific recommendations for a bacteria-friendly diet at the moment, but eating muesli every morning as well as enough fruit and vegetables throughout the day helps to maintain a rich variety of bacterial species,” lead researcher Dr. Mario Zaiss told Science Daily online.

High-fiber diet may also reduce the risk of all-cause mortality

The recent findings added to the growing number of research that demonstrated the many health benefits of following a diet high in fiber. For instance, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that eating a high-fiber diet may help reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular, infectious and respiratory diseases as well any other causes. (Related: Massive health study finds dietary fiber intake slashes risk of numerous diseases.)

The scientists pooled data from the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study as part of the research. The results revealed that men and women with the highest fiber intake were up to 22 percent less likely to die of any causes compared with those who had the lowest intake. The researchers also observed that the risk of dying from cardiovascular, infectious and respiratory diseases decreased between 24 percent and 56 percent in men, and from 34 percent to 59 percent in women with high fiber intakes.

“The findings remained robust when we corrected for dietary intake measurement error using calibration study data; in fact, the association was even stronger with measurement error correction. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend choosing fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains frequently and consuming 14 grams per 1,000 calories of dietary fiber. A diet rich in dietary fiber from whole plant foods may provide significant health benefits,” the researchers concluded in a Science Daily article.

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