According to new research by members of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Department of Microbiology and Immunology, diets rich in guar gum, a common food additive and dietary fiber, reduce inflammation and delay the onset of symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) in mice.
“The rapid increase in autoimmune disorders and inflammation in industrialized countries in the past few decades suggests that dietary choices are one of the environmental factors that contribute to infection,” said lead study author Dr Lisa Osborne and UBC assistant professor of microbiology and immunology. “.
“Dietary fibers are powerful modulators of immune responses and can control inflammation in multiple diseases, but they are a very biochemically diverse family. Our study gives us a clearer window into the potential of many sources of fiber in maintaining immune health.”
Dr. Osborne and colleagues exposed groups of mice to a variety of diets – a control diet of 5 percent cellulose fiber, a diet completely lacking in dietary fiber, or a diet rich in fiber (30%) in either resistant starch, or inulin. , or pectin, or guar gum. Quar gum was the only type of fiber that significantly reduced MS-like symptoms.
Guar gum – Guaran – is extracted from guar beans, and is often used as an additive to thicken and stabilize food and animal feed, and in industrial applications. India and Pakistan are the largest bean growers.
Guar beans are not common in Western diets, and chewing gum is not used at such high levels as an additive in the West.
Experts consistently say that fiber is good for you — and a variety of fiber sources are important for immune health — but there hasn’t been a lot of definitive work to determine how the body responds to the different types of fiber. It is amazing that this particular source has such an effect.”
Naomi Fettig, first author and doctoral student, UBC Department of Microbiology and Immunology
In the United States and Canada, the average daily intake of fiber is 15 grams – current recommendations are double that at 30 grams. The recommended values do not take into account any particular type of fiber. “Incorporating guar pills can be challenging to achieve the doses we gave the mice,” Dr. Osborne says. “But the guar gum derivative, partially hydrolyzed guar gum, is commercially available as a biomaterials.”
After the gums were broken down by the murine microbiota, the resulting molecules appeared to reduce the activity and proliferation of a type of CD4+ T cell, Th1 cells, which play a key role in activating the autoimmune response. It is this response that leads to MS-like symptoms in mice. The effects of fibers on Th1 cells remained largely unknown prior to this study, and these results suggest that biochemical differences in fiber structures can influence diverse immune pathways.
Dr. Osborne and her lab now want to explore the potential benefits for humans – including developing a more detailed understanding of the molecular profile, which may help design treatments that more practically deliver the benefits of such high-guar gum diets.
Fettig, New Mexico, et al. (2022) Inhibition of Th1 activation and differentiation by nutritional guar gum attenuates experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. Cell reports. doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2022.111328.
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