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Fiber seems to be linked to a reduced risk of disease in people older than 50

Monday, February 21, 2011; 11:38 AM

THE QUESTION: Diets high in fiber have been shown to aid weight loss and help with digestive problems. Might fiber also offer other health benefits?

THIS STUDY analyzed medical and food consumption data on 388,122 adults older than 50. In a nine-year span, 31,456 of them died. People who routinely consumed the most fiber - an average of 24 grams daily for men, 26 for women - were 22 percent less likely to have died in this time than were those whose diets included the least amount of fiber. Among men, high fiber intake lowered the risk for dying from infectious diseases by 56 percent, from respiratory diseases by 31 percent and from cardiovascular disease by 24 percent; among women, risks fell by 59 percent, 46 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Higher consumption of fiber also lessened the chances of dying from cancer for men, but not for women. As intake of fiber from whole grains increased, the chance of dying from these diseases decreased. That did not apply to fiber from other sources, such as fruits.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People who routinely include fiber in their diets. Current dietary guidelines recommend that women consume at least 25 grams of fiber daily and that men consume 38 grams. According to government estimates, most Americans take in, on average, just 15 grams a day. (A banana or apple contains about three grams of fiber, as does a cup of such cereals as Wheaties and Cheerios. A slice of whole-wheat or rye bread contains about 2 grams, a cup of green beans provides 4 grams and a cup of pinto beans contains roughly 15 grams.)

CAVEATS: Dietary data came from the participants' responses on questionnaires. Higher fiber intake might have reflected an overall healthier lifestyle, which could have affected the results. The authors theorized that the beneficial effects, especially against infectious and respiratory diseases, may stem from the anti-inflammatory properties of fiber.

FIND THIS STUDY: Feb. 14 online issue of Archives of Internal Medicine

LEARN MORE ABOUT dietary fiber at www.familydoctor.com and www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource .

- Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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