Consequences of less fibre consumption

By Dr. Walter Vermeulen 30 April 2023, 2:00PM

In recent columns, we have discussed the benefits of daily consuming oats as a way to provide enough fiber to ‘feed’ the fiber-consuming bacteria that live in our intestinal tract. These bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that are distributed around our body and have multiple beneficial effects such as controlling diabetes and other chronic diseases. 

In this column we will discuss what happens when one does not consume enough fiber every day. For one, the type of bacteria that feed on fiber find it difficult to survive in such conditions and thus the production of SCFA is reduced or interrupted. Another embarrassing complication with far reaching consequences is that people develop constipation. The passing of feces is a very private affair and we apologize for raising this subject in this column but as you will read, difficulty with this can lead to very unpleasant consequences. 

In most Western countries (but increasingly in many other countries as well!), where the great majority of people are regular meat-eaters that consequently eat less than half the recommended amount of fiber a day, constipation is a fact of life. The condition is so widespread –affecting up to 80 per cent of the populations- to the point where doctors will rule that passing stools just three times a week is quite acceptable. This is not true as decaying and stagnant intestinal content can harm the inner lining of the intestines, which could lead to cancer growth. Constipation can lead to other complications. 

Firstly, it is a cause for frequent abdominal discomfort and pain, bloating and nausea. It can lead to varicose veins as a result of chronic straining to pass feces. But far worse, this excessive straining, which is meant to increase intra- abdominal pressure and force out the stool, increases the pressure inside the chest, which places a lot of stress on the heart. It leads to reduced blood flow to the heart and slows down the pumping of the heart, which in turn reduces the amount of blood being pumped to the brain. This may cause some people to faint.  In addition, and even worse, once the straining stops, the sudden release will lead to an abrupt increase in blood pressure, which if the person suffers from diseased arteries, could lead to tiny blood vessels in the brain to burst, leading to a stroke. 

In short, ample research has shown that chronic constipation has been linked to a higher risk of strokes, heart attacks and even cardiac arrests. It is therefore a condition that needs to be avoided or dealt with. Doctors will probably prescribe drugs, called laxatives such as stimulant laxatives that ‘stimulate’ the lining of the intestine, increasing the stool's hydration, thereby accelerating the journey through the colon. Popular examples are ‘Dulcolax’ and ‘Senokot’. Other laxatives, called osmolar laxatives, such as ‘Milk of Magnesia’ draw fluids into the intestine from the surrounding tissues: more water in the intestine results in softer stools that are easier to pass. (It's imperative to drink a lot of water with osmotic laxatives, not only for the laxative to be effective, but to decrease the possibility of gas and cramps). 

It is not surprising that laxatives are among the most commonly used drugs…Most are quite safe when used judiciously and intermittently, but because people use them so frequently, laxatives end up being one of the most common causes of adverse drug reactions like headache, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, leaving most patients dissatisfied... So why not instead just try to treat the cause, which is insufficient fiber in the diet? It is quite clear-cut that if you follow the whole food plant based diet that METI recommends, you will be relieved of this troublesome constipation and ‘enjoy’ the daily passage of soft stools!  

In summary, a diet centred on fruits, vegetables (including root crops), legumes (which are beans, peas and lentils), whole grains (which include oats), nuts and seeds contains all the naturally concentrated sources of fiber that you need to keep constipation at bay. In addition, sufficient water intake throughout the day and engaging in physical activity for about 30 min a day will further ensure a relief from this troublesome condition. 

We invite you to visit METI’s Healthy Living Clinic at House No. 51 at Motootua (across from the Kokobanana Restaurant) to become acquainted with METI’s whole food plant based diet and Lifestyle Change programs. Or call us at 30550. Learning how to follow these Programs might be your ‘game changer’!

By Dr. Walter Vermeulen 30 April 2023, 2:00PM
Samoa Observer

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