As a Functional MD, I dig the gut. It took me a while to buy into the fact that our guts really do play a crucial role in many illnesses that are seemingly separate from our intestines, but now, I regularly seek out more gut related research to sharpen my clinical care to a razor’s edge. During my research digging, I often look for studies revealing the many benefits of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). These SCFA’s have been implicated in diseases from leaky gut to heart failure to autoimmune to neurologic dysfunction. Today, I just learned of another connection to the gut, bone health.
Researchers in this study introduced their work describing how fiber intake and the SCFA’s that our gut bacteria produce from this fiber has been linked to bone loss in inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. While inflammation of any type has been linked to bone health, this study demonstrated how butyric acid and propionic acid (two major SCFA’s in our gut) influenced bone turnover. Interestingly, these SCFA’s slow bone breakdown. They do not affect bone building. They just tip the balance in favor of growth. In the rat model studied, this led to stronger bones.
During the multistage course of the study, another finding piqued my interest. They built on the prior research linking increased bacteria species Prevotella with early rheumatoid arthritis. They tested out this bacteria’s effects on rat bone health. More Prevotella led to more cells that break down bone (osteoclasts). Then, in another stage of the study, they demonstrated that SCFA’s could slow postmenopausal bone loss in rats.
In the end, this Functional MD has one more reason to recommend fiber to his patients and one more reason to take another serving of fiber at dinner. At Sanctuary Functional Medicine, our 5R Program to restore gut health emphasizes fiber as food for the good bacteria in the colon. Fiber falls in the class of nutrients called “prebiotics”. While “probiotics” are the actual bacteria in fermented food or a supplemental capsule, prebiotics are considered their food or fertilizer. With good prebiotic fiber, healthy good bacteria can produce not only the SCFA’s beneficial to bone health but also many vitamins. These bacteria can also proliferate and provide beneficial metabolic effects. These substances make for not only a healthy gut, but a healthy body, including the bones. At Sanctuary, the fiber recommendation is just one more simple way we try to help patients live a healthier more abundant life.