How Much Prebiotic Fiber is TOO Much? Let’s Ask the Indians of the prehistoric Chihuahuan Desert.
The agave plant is unique to the southwest part of the US, more specifically to the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. The plant has wide spicky leaves, but a juicy heart which is loaded with inulin that is heart of the this story. Today agave is known for its source of nutrients and for the distilling of high end tequila. But the agave story has had a much more dramatic history. The Chihuahuan (chi-wa-wa) Indians had a healthy and vigorous culture in this area a thousand years ago. They widely cultivated the agave plant. We can still see the very long rows where they grew and cultivated agave. Archeological research has uncovered a lot about this culture because the desert is so dry that most things will remain for a long time. Researchers have done explorations of caves and other areas and have come up with some startling findings.
Coprolytes are fossilized feces. Large amounts of these coprolites have been found and analyzed. The amazing result of this research is that these Chihuahuan Indians were consuming up to 135 grams of inulin a day (see link below). Today the recommended dose of these inulin-like fructan prebiotics is about 8 grams a day. I personally take 16 grams a day. We now know a lot about what happens to the prebiotics once they get into the GI track.
Prebiotics in the Gut
Prebiotics sail through the GI track unaffected until they reach the colon. There, they are used by the good bacteria in the gut as a fuel source to grow and multiple. And do they ever. These good bacteria, especially the Bifidobacters and Lactobacillus bugs, produce large amounts of a small substance called short chain fatty acids (SCFA). The SCFAs are the heroes of the story. They clean up and prevent infection and are the nutrients for the cells that line the colon itself. This is remarkable. We give these bugs a nice warm home in our colon and, when fed right, the nourish the very cells that line the colon.
But There is More to the Story
These SCFAs then move through the colon wall and are a fuel source for the body itself. This is a simply astounding piece of research. We always thought that nutrition only came from foods that were broken down and absorbed from the small intestine. Now we know that energy can also come from fiber, fiber that is transformed and absorbed from the colon. These Chihuahuan Indians must have had an immensely regular bowel pattern. The number and size of the coprolites the researchers have found shows us this. Along with this, these peoples undoubtedly had an incredibly healthy bowel pattern and, more importantly, obtained lots of calories for their tough life living in this desert community.
So How Much is Enough?
It is hard to say for sure. We know that the diet in the Western world is woefully deficient in fiber. If these Indians could be eating 135 grams of fiber a day, there would seem to be no limit what we could eat. For many people a limiting factor is how much harmless (and odorless) gas is produced. Our experience is that fiber and supplements such as Prebiotin can and should be increased gradually over a long period of time. A plant based diet is nutritious and your gut, in the absence of serious GI disease can tolerate and, indeed, would welcome very generous amounts of prebiotic fiber, our Prebiotin being a leader in this field.
High dietary intake of prebiotic inulin-type fructans in the prehistoric Chihuahuan Desert.
Br J Nutr. 2010 Jun;103(11):1558-61. Epub 2010 Apr 26.
Link to full article at Paleobiotics Lab