Fibre and cholesterol – not the whole story

Keeping your cholesterol levels low is one of the most important things you can do to keep your heart healthy. Our modern world, however, where fast foods and office work is the norm make this difficult task. Instead of trying to decipher and follow the myriad of advice out there though, staying focussed on a few key elements is your best bet to lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). These include exercise, eating a diet low in saturated fats and making sure you are getting enough fibre from your food.

Lately, there has been a lot of interest in the last of these factors – getting enough fibre. But this begs the question, is fibre enough?

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate present in plants. We aren’t able to digest it, but it is still essential to health, especially in terms of keeping your gut healthy and helping to reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Most plant based foods contain soluble fibre, and if you are eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetable per day, you should be getting an adequate amount. Supplementing fibre on top of this may be helpful, but should never be used as a substitute for a healthy diet.

There are two main types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibre is great for gut health, but has little effect on cholesterol levels. Soluble fibre, on the other hand, takes on a gel-like consistency when mixed with water. This allows it essentially trap food, bile salts and cholesterol in your gut, slowing their digestion and absorption into the blood stream. Bile salts are made from cholesterol, and by stopping them from being reused, your body needs to use cholesterol to make more.

Fibre is therefore safe, natural and part of a healthy diet. Despite this, fibre has a few short-comings, and shouldn’t be used as a stand-alone in reducing CVD risk.

First of all, while cholesterol is the most well-known contributor to heart disease, it is not the only influence. Triglycerides are also a major risk factor. Both cholesterol and triglycerides are types of fat, known as lipids. There are also a few types of cholesterol, the most important of which are HDL and LDL. LDL cholesterol tends to accumulate within arterial walls, contributing to atherosclerosis. This is why it is often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is more easily removed and may help eliminate LDL cholesterol from the arteries, earning it the title of ‘good’ cholesterol.

In terms of your heart health, fibre has only been shown to reduce your LDL cholesterol, and has little to no effect on your HDL and triglyceride levels. The effect on LDL is also only moderate, addressing just two of the factors contributing to high LDL levels – reducing uptake of dietary cholesterol and cholesterol (bile salt) reabsorption efficiency. This means that a high fibre intake can help to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, but does not address other equally important risk factors of CVD, nor all factors causing high LDL.

Second of all, while fibre doesn’t have any major side effects, the high doses needed to significantly affect LDL levels require that a large amount is taken via supplements. This can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort like bloating, gas and constipation, especially if not introduced slowly.

Finally, the mechanisms by which cholesterol and triglycerides become a danger to your health are complex, arising from the simultaneous and progressive influence of environmental factors (such as diet) as well as internal factors like genetics and pre-existing disease. In order to effectively reduce the damaging effects of lipids, therefore, it is necessary to address as many of these factors as possible. This begins with minimising negative environmental impacts and maximising positive ones. Environmental factors aren’t the whole story, however, and in order to keep as healthy as possible, we need to improve the function of core biological pathways that contribute to disease. It is therefore essential to ensure that all underlying pathways are effectively addressed, requiring that multiple molecules in well-designed combinations are used to treat complex disorders.

Instead of relying on a single approach to reducing your risk for CVD, it is thus more beneficial and more effective to focus on a number of key factors to lower your lipid levels. These should include comprehensive lifestyle changes, particularly dietary changes that involve eating a lot more fibre-rich, whole foods, increasing exercise, reducing your intake of saturated fats and complex carbohydrates and taking supplements intended to more comprehensively address the causative factors of raised lipid levels.

At the Medical Nutritional Institute, we have developed a number of resources to make this journey easier and more convenient for you and your loved ones, addressing diet, exercise and a triad of the underlying pathways leading to elevated lipid levels.

Our C.A.P.E meal plan, weekly meal planners and cholesterol lowering guidelines, make it much easier to follow and stick to a healthy diet. These focus on reducing the amount of processed carbohydrates and unhealthy lipids in your diet, while increasing the amount of nutritious foods and healthy fats. They also provide a large amount of fibre which will work towards lowering your cholesterol.

If you struggle to keep active, our exercise plans are easy, a breeze to follow and will help you to get active without a huge amount of effort.

RyChol, our cholesterol focussed supplement, contains a unique blend of phytochemical (plant-derived) ingredients that have each demonstrated an ability to help regulate blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels via scientifically recognised and different mechanisms. These ingredients work together to achieve a multi-modal pharmaceutical action based on the selective blocking of various biochemical pathways involved in cholesterol absorption and excretion, as well as triglyceride digestion.

  • Phyto, or plant, sterols are naturally-occurring plant fats, structurally similar to cholesterol. Phytosterols are poorly absorbed, and compete with cholesterol for absorption in the gut, meaning that they help prevent the uptake of both dietary and bile salt derived cholesterol from the small intestine.
  • Apple polyphenols help block the digestion of saturated fat, and by doing so, help prevent the uptake of triglycerides from the small intestine into the body.
  • Barberry root extract contains a substance called berberine. Berberine has been demonstrated to lower cholesterol by increasing LDL removal by the liver, leading to the accelerated clearance of LDL cholesterol from the body.
  • Psyillium increases faecal elimination of bile acids via entrapment and absorption, thus aids to facilitate the natural expulsion of cholesterol, triglyceride and LDL contained in bile.

Through addressing the multiple underlying factors contributing to CVD, you, together with MNI, can take control your cardiovascular health today.

Take RyChol every day to stay healthier for longer!

Please contact our experts for more advice or if you have any questions here.