A Dangerous Sludge
Another problem with inadequate fiber intake, Hurd says, is that it results in a change of consistency in our bile. As bile becomes more polluted, she explains, “the physical state of bile is not as liquid as before,” she says. “It becomes sludgy, like mud. Eventually, it can turn into a solid substance we call gallstones.”
Moreover, Hurd explains, the trashier and sludgier your bile becomes, the more acidic and irritating it becomes to your tissues. This can lead to a host of problems, including swelling and inflammation in your colon, duodenum and all the way up in your esophagus.
“Inflammation in the esophagus includes all kinds of things like Barrett’s esophagus, where you have this thickening of the opening, so things feel like they get stuck in your throat,” says Hurd.
Sludgy bile causes not only various diseases of the gallbladder, explains Hurd, but also tertiary skin conditions, such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, which depend upon a properly functioning gallbladder to help bile break down into little pieces, or emulsify, the fats. The results, says Hurd, are predictable: “If you don’t have the right types of fats in your skin, you’ll have skin problems.”
Worse, if the fats are not successfully emulsified via the bile, the body falls back on a second, less desirable chemical process capable of breaking these long-chain fatty acids into usable short-chain fatty acids. That process is called oxidation, and it can lead both to premature aging and to inflammatory diseases of all kinds, including heart disease.
“If your bile is so sludgy that you cannot adequately emulsify the fat, and it dumps back in your body these long chains that have not been broken down properly, they will enter into your bloodstream by way of the ileum, travel through the lymphatic system and deposit into the circulatory system behind the heart,” explains Hurd. “The heart is one of the most oxygen-rich environments in the human body, and what happens is you will have immediate fat oxidation, which makes nasty little foam cells that are extremely sticky and build up inside the arteries. And then your arteries can become 50 percent blocked or 80 percent blocked or 100 percent blocked, for example. When you have 100 percent blockage, you have what’s known as a myocardial infarction — a fancy phrase for heart attack.”
The idea that a lack of dietary fiber can be a root cause of atherosclerosis and heart attack is shocking to many people, notes Hurd. Yet there are other dire consequences of a faulty recycling system that may surprise us even more — like cancer, especially hormonally caused cancers such as estrogen types.
“Estrogen is made from fats. It’s an example of a fat-soluble waste that is cleared by the liver,” Hurd explains. “But if you don’t ➺ properly eliminate polluted bile, that estrogen goes back into your bloodstream, and the estrogen levels in your bloodstream mount,” she continues. “Then those estrogens can stimulate the growth of abnormal cells, which can lead to the growth of cancerous cells. And, then we have estrogen-type cancers, such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, fallopian tube cancer, ovarian cancer and vaginal cancer. Why are these cancers being stimulated? Because estrogen is stimulating their growth. Why do we have so much estrogen? Because we never threw it away via elimination when we had the chance.”
The encouraging news, says Hurd, is that one of the most promising ways to help end this vicious cycle — and to eliminate many painful and frustrating conditions whose symptoms are commonly treated with drugs or surgery — is simply to eat an ample supply of fiber-rich foods.
We’ve seen that dietary fiber plays a huge part in keeping our bodies’ filtration and elimination systems working properly, but that’s really only part of the story. Fiber also plays a vital role in improving the effectiveness of the gastrointestinal system, which contains more than half the body’s immune system.
After some dietary fibers pass through the small intestine undigested, they arrive in the large intestine, or colon, and serve as fuel for the friendly bacteria living there. These so-called prebiotic fibers help friendly bacteria grow and triumph over bad bugs in the colon.
“Fiber feeds good bacteria, so a lack of fiber actually kills the good bacteria in your gut — and the good bacteria in your gut is yet another thing that Western medicine does not clue into in terms of its importance,” says Junger. “In fact, very few gastrointestinologists even deal with what kind of bacteria you have in your gut.”
According to some experts, a flourishing corps of friendly intestinal flora can help protect the lining of the intestine and prevent leaky gut syndrome, a condition that allows toxins, fungi and undigested proteins to get into the bloodstream. Leaky gut syndrome can cause a host of autoimmune diseases and allergies. (See “Good Bacteria Welcome” in the July/August 2007 archives at experiencelifemag.com.)
Of course, there’s one other benefit of a high-fiber diet. The foods that are naturally high in fiber — beans, vegetables, whole grains and fruits — are precisely the foods that are high in phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They tend to be lower-glycemic foods, too — the kind that naturally support steady energy and good weight management.
Given fiber’s multiple benefits, it’s clear that many of us practice the wrong nutritional math. Instead of trying to subtract calories, we should concentrate on adding grams of fiber (Hurd recommends 5 grams of soluble fiber — the equivalent of a half-cup cup of beans — at each meal).
The best part? You can see and feel the results from eating more fiber almost immediately. When introduced to a properly designed fiber-boosting regimen, says Hurd, many of her clients find that certain digestive troubles can vanish the same day. She’s seen entrenched skin conditions clear up within a week and gallstones dissolve within six weeks. So, eat those beans! It’s all part of a winning strategy for better health.
The Fiber-Bile Connection
Fiber and bile play little-understood but important roles in digestion and toxin elimination. Here’s an overview of how they work together in your body.