Volunteers essential to discovering which type of dietary fibre is best for our health

Study needs 200 more participants to take a dietary fibre supplement for six weeks.


What if you could do something ultra-simple for a month and a half that makes a lasting difference to your own health and helps provide scientific knowledge to improve Western society’s diet and health. Would you do it? 

Gastrointestinal researchers Jens Walter and Edward Deehan hope that about 200 people will say yes to adding a powdered dietary fibre to their diet for just six weeks.

The researchers are studying how different fibre types influence the microbes that live in our gastrointestinal tract and how this is related to chronic diseases such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

“We want to establish basic connections between fibre consumption and the microbiome,” said Walter, the University of Alberta’s CAIP Chair for Nutrition, Microbes and Gastrointestinal Health.

The microbiome consists of trillions of micro-organisms, primarily bacteria, that live in our digestive tract. These exert an important impact on our immune system and overall metabolism.

It’s already known that a diversity of bacteria in our microbiome is essential to maintaining the balance that keeps us healthy. Unfortunately, over the past 200 years, much of that diversity has disappeared. Comparisons of the gut microbiota of Western cultures with cultures that live a non-industrialized lifestyle show that up to 70 per cent of the diversity of our microbiome has disappeared through our modern lifestyle.   

Recent research suggests that our modern diet, which leans heavily toward processed sugar and fat, and less toward fruits, vegetables and whole grains, may be to blame. In particular, dietary fibre is absent in the modern diet and fibre constitutes an important source of nutrients for our gut microbes. 

“Our ancestors easily ingested at least 100 grams of fibre per day,” said Walter.

Present-day Canadians eat only half of Health Canada’s suggested 25 to 38 grams per day, a behaviour that’s similar in other Western countries.

By not eating enough fibre, Walter explained, we’re “starving the microbial partners” in our digestive tract, causing detrimental health outcomes.

“There is therefore a great rationale to boost fibre levels in Western food,” said Walter. “If we understand how different fibre types and doses influence human health, and how that is related to our microbiome, we can change dietary recommendations to systematically and substantially improve our diet.”

In addition to adding pre-packaged powdered fibre to their meals daily, the participants in Walter and Deehan’s study will also provide blood and stool samples at the beginning and end of the study.

For their assistance, study participants will receive an honorarium and a free dietary counselling session with a registered dietitian.

To join the study, contact Edward or Janis at 780-492-9506 or at uafyber@ualberta.ca.