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Recent Study: High Fiber in the Diet Decreases Risk of Death, Many Diseases

A newly-published US study of over 350,000 people over a nine-year period shows strong links between high amounts of fiber in the diet and reduced risks of death, including death from cardioascular, infectious, and respiratory diseases.

The National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study began in the mid-1990s by collecting food frequency questionnaire answers from 219,123 men and 168,999 women. Researches correlated the information with data on causes of death among the participants over nearly a decade of follow-up, using national registries. The focus was on amounts of fiber in the participants’ diets.

Fiber, defined as the portion of any food plant that is not readily digestible, is thought by many scientists to help protect humans from heart disease, obesity, and some types of cancer. Fiber reduces blood cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, promotes healthy bowel function and blood glucose levels, reduces inflammation, aids weight loss. It also binds to some carcinogenic substances, making their safe excretion more likely.

In a preliminary online report in February 2011, Dr. Yikyung Park of the National Cancer Institute and colleagues summarized their findings. The study participants’ questionnaire responses showed that they consumed fiber in a range of  13 to 29 grams per day for men and 11 to 26 grams per day for women.

During an average of nine years of follow-up, 20,126 of the 219,123 men died, and 11,330 of the 168,999 women. Higher levels of fiber correlated with significantly lower risk of total death, that is deaths counted without referring`to specific cause. The men and women in the highest fifth of fiber-intake rate (29.4 grams/day for the men, 25.8/day for women) had a 22% lower mortality rate than those who were in the lowest fifth for fiber consumption (12.6 grams/day for men and 10.8 grams/day for women).

Even better were the decreased risk factors for specific diseases. High fiber consumption was associated with a 24% to 56% reduction in risk of cardioascular, respiratory and infectious disease in men, and a 34 to 59% reduction in women. High dietary fiber from grain sources (though not from fruit and vegetable sources) correlated for both sexes with lessened risk of total deaths, as well as from death specifically due to respiratory, cancer, and cardiovascular illness.

The authors wrote in the online report, “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.” In conclusion, “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 complete report is due to be printed in the June 14, 2011 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

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