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Stress Management for Health Course



"Fibre is certainly effective in the prevention of constipation but it is also beneficial in reducing the risks of bowel cancer."

(Prof. Gordon McVie, Cancer Research Campaign)

Fibre is found in plant-based foods.  It is the indigestible part of the plant cell walls and is not really one compound but a group of compounds.  It used to be called roughage and is now referred to as NSP (Non-Starchy Polysaccaride).  A high fibre diet is important in helping us to cope with stress because it helps glucose from our foods to be slowly released into our blood stream.  Low fibre, refined foods cause the glucose to be released too quickly into our blood stream this causes the blood sugar levels to fall too quickly and the brain in response triggers the release of stress hormones to release the body's energy reserves in order to increase our blood sugar levels. 


There are two types of fibre:


1.   Soluble

2.   Insoluble



1.      Soluble Fibre

Helps to increase the number of friendly bacteria in the bowel, lower blood cholesterol.  Sources include oats, barley and pulses.


2.      Insoluble Fibre

Provides most of the bulk to speed up and stimulate the large intestine so preventing constipation.  Sources include grains, nuts, cereals.


All foods containing fibre have both insoluble and soluble fibre in them in varying amounts, but wholegrain based foods tend to be made up of mainly insoluble fibre and other foods like fruits, vegetables, pulses have higher levels of soluble fibre.

Our western diet, because it is based mainly on fat, protein and refined carbohydrates, is therefore, naturally low in fibre because these foods contain little, if any fibre.  It is recommended than we should be consuming about 16 grams of fibre per day for women and 18 grams of fibre per day for men but 8 out of 10 people in the UK are only consuming 12 grams of fibre per day.

In countries like China where large section of the population still consume a plant based diet, the bulk of the diet is plant based fruits, vegetables, cereals and lower levels of animal products, have lower levels of health problems such as diverticular disease, constipation, diabetes, high blood pressure, varicous veins, obesity, haemorrhoids, hiatus hernia, bowel cancer, and this is thought to be partly due to their higher fibre intake.


Fibre and Stress

Many people may wonder what on earth fibre has got to do with stress.  But in reality it has got a lot to do with stress.  A high fibre diet has many beneficial effects on our health and in relation to stress, fibre helps to slow down the release of sugars from our foods into the blood stream and so keep our blood sugar levels stable.  When our blood sugar levels yo-yo up and down when the sugar drops too low the brain stimulates the release of the stress hormone adrenaline to release the body's energy stores.  Researchers led by Professor Andrew Smith at Cardiff University, found that research subjects who ate breakfast cereals that contained different fibre contents found that those consuming high fibre breakfast cereals were more emotionally stable in comparison to those researcher subjects fed low fibre breakfast cereals.

It used to be thought that fibre had no role in human health, however low fibre is a factor in the development of a number of health problems:


Conditions Related to Low Fibre Intake



The National Health Service bill for laxatives to treat constipation exceeds the amount of money spent on drugs to treat cancer.  The most common cause of constipation is a low fibre diet.  Fibre helps the stool retain water keeping it more soft and easier to pass.  Every gram of fibre eaten adds 5 grams to the stool bulk.


Breast Cancer

A low fibre diet is thought to be one factor in breast cancer.  Constipation (due to low fibre diet,) increases the levels of oestrogen hormone and higher levels of oestrogen are linked to hormone dependent cancers.  Research has shown that women that have two or fewer bowel movements a week have a four times increased risk of breast cancer.  In her book, "The Plant Programme" author J. Plant quotes the statistic that 1 in 10 women in the UK develop breast cancer, however in China only 1 woman in ten thousand develop breast cancer.


Bowel Cancer

High fibre diets help to lower a person's risk of bowel cancer which is one of the most common types of cancer in the west.  In less well developed nations still eating a plant based diet which is naturally high in fibre have lower rates of bowel cancer than we do in the west.  Fibre speeds up the rate at which food passes through the gastro-intestinal tract so potentially cancer causing toxins are not in contact with the bowel wall for as long.  Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the west.


Heart Disease

Fibre helps to reduce the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed from the intestine into the bloodstream and by doing so also helps to lower the risk of heart disease.



It is important to not increase fibre intake too quickly as our gastro intestinal tract needs time to adapt to a higher fibre diet.  At the same time we should also increase our fluid intake because a high fibre diet soaks up a lot of fluid and without the extra fluid intake you could have the risk of constipation.

Build up fibre intake slowly and increase fluid intake.  Fibre soaks up fluid so increase water. 

If you have a gastro-intestinal or any other chronic health problem or are on any medication see your Doctor before increasing your fibre intake.


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