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Research explores the effects of dietary fibre from different food sources on the risk of diabetes

3 June 2015

It is estimated that over 360 million people globally are affected by diabetes, with experts predicting this to increase to over 550 million within the next 20 years.  This projection could have serious consequences for the future of the global health and economy, and as such is an area of high importance.

Previous research has identified positive links between increasing dietary fibre intake and reducing the risks of developing type 2 diabetes.    However, as sources of fibre and amounts consumed differ between countries, it is believed that these results were not representative on a global scale. 

New research published in Diabetologia through the EPIC-InterAct Study explored the effects of dietary fibre from various different food sources including cereal, fruit and vegetable across eight European countries.  The results of the research was analysed in conjunction with a recent meta-analysis of 18 global independent studies. 

As part of the EPIC study, participants were divided equally into 4 groups, ranging from lowest (<19g/day) to highest (>26g/day) fibre intake and assessed over an average of 11 years for the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  Initial analysis of the results indicated that those with the highest fibre intake had an 18% reduced risk of developing diabetes as compared to those with the lowest total fibre intake.  However, when the results were adjusted for body mass index (BMI it was found that higher total fibre intake was no longer linked associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes. It was concluded instead that dietary fibre increase may be helping people to maintain a healthier weight, and thus reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  

In addition, the study established that effects of total dietary fibre and benefits gained through mediating BMI varied via the food source.   Cereal fibre was found to have the most positive effect on risk reduction as compared to fruit and vegetable fibre.  These associations again disappeared with adjustment for BMI.   The authors also undertook a meta-analysis pooling date from the EPIC-InterAct study with those form 18 other studies.   41,000 new-onset cases of type 2 diabetes were included with a finding that the risk of diabetes fell by 9% for every 10g/day increase in total fibre intake and by 25% for each 10g/day increase in total cereal fibre.  No similarly statistically significant relationship was seen via increasing either fruit or vegetable fibre intake.

The study concluded that individuals with a diet rich in cereal fibre may be at lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  While at this stage the exact reasons remain unknown hypotheses include prolonged release of hormonal signals, slower nutrient absorption and altered fermentation in the large intestine as likely causes.  

Overall, in the arena of improving public health globally there is evidence to suggest that increased fibre consumption will have an important role to play moving forward to reduce the epidemic of type 2 diabetes.

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