Posted on: August 17th, 2021

It is well known that fiber is one of the keys to a healthy diet. New research has shown promising results into how fiber may also delay age-related brain inflammation. The notion that fiber may help with more than gut health is exciting and could lead to amazing health benefits in the future.

“The main takeaway from the study on fiber and brain aging was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology. Rodney Johnson, a professor and the head of the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is the corresponding author of the study, and Stephanie M. Matt is the first author of the paper.”

Studying How Fiber Helps Lower Inflammation

The study on fiber and brain aging primarily focuses on microglia, which is a major type of immune cell in the brain, and how they inflame over the years. The inflammation associated with microglia is one of the main factors in cognitive decline in old age.

Prior to the study, research had already shown that certain forms of butyrate (a short-chain fatty acid) improved memory and reduced brain inflammation in mice. The exact mechanisms of how butyrate affected the brain are not entirely clear.

The brain aging study decided to again use mice, but this time by feeding them diets with differing amounts of fiber. The researchers then measured the blood levels of butyrate and pro-inflammatory substances found in the intestines of the mice.

Prof. Rodney Johnson noted “The high-fiber diet elevated butyrate and other [short-chain fatty acids] in the blood both for young and old mice. But, only the old mice showed intestinal inflammation on the low-fiber diet […] It’s interesting that young adults didn’t have that inflammatory response on the same diet. It clearly highlights the vulnerability of being old.”

Consuming a high-fiber diet reduced intestinal inflammation in aging mice so much it became indistinguishable from that of young mice.

What about fiber affecting the brain?

How Fiber Helps Your Brain

Genetic analyses in the study of fiber and brain aging found that high fiber intake reduced inflammation in the brain microglia of mice. Researchers conducting the study suspect this occurs due to diminished production of interleukin-1β (a pro-inflammatory chemical some studies have linked to Alzheimer’s).

“We know that diet has a major influence on the composition and function of microbes in the gut and that diets high in fiber benefit good microbes,” he points out, “while diets high in fat and protein can have a negative influence on microbial composition and function.”

The findings in this study are relevant to humans. Professor Rodney Johnson writes “people are not likely to consume sodium butyrate directly, due to its noxious odor, but a practical way to get elevated butyrate is to consume a diet high in soluble fiber.”

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