Dietary Fiber and Atherosclerosis

  • Marie M. Cassidy
  • George V. Vahouny
Part of the GWUMC Department of Biochemistry Annual Spring Symposia book series (GWUN)


The relationship between the intake of dietary fiber materials and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease is principally derived from the lipid hypothesis as an etiologic factor in atherosclerosis. High values of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), HDL-cholesterol, or the ratio of HDL-to LDL-cholesterol are believed to be negative correlation factors in coronary heart disease. It has been estimated that a 12% decrement in plasma cholesterol reduces the risk of myocardial infarction by 24%. The data supporting the ameliorative effect on atherosclerosis strongly suggest that only certain types of fiber are important in this regard, particularly in man. Wheat and corn bran have little impact on these plasma parameters, whereas oat bran is moderately effective. Soluble fibers such as oat gum, guar gum, and pectin demonstrate a significant hypocholesteremic effect and also lower LDL levels. Although coronary heart disease is a multifactorial development, the nature of the dietary intake is recognized as a contributory factor. Animal models offer the advantage of short-and long-term studies, direct lymphatic and vascular cannulation or reinfusion to test putative mechanisms, and both pre-and postmortem structural and functional data accrewal. We have focused on the effects of dietary fiber derivatives on specific aspects of structural and functional adaptation of the rat gastrointestinal tract. The basic postulate of this approach is that physiological, health-positive sequelae of fiber intake must result from signals perceived and/or relayed systemically by the mucosal lining, since it is generally agreed that these materials are exposed to this organ system only. In the rat model, viscous fiber derivatives delay but do not impede fatty acid absorption, although cholesterol absorption into lymph is significantly diminished. There is no difference in chylomicron sizing as assayed morphometrically. Alfalfa and guar gum feeding causes a greater recovery of oleic acid and cholesterol in the chylomicron fraction. Pectin decreased this expression of absorbed lipid with a corresponding increment in VLDL. The effects of dietary fiber supplementation are not solely explained by alterations in gastric emptying or interference with bulk-phase diffusion of lipids.

Cytokinetic studies have revealed that intestinal cell proliferation and escalation and mucin glycoprotein incorporation and secretion are stimulated by fiber feeding, particularly with cellulose and bran. The expressed functional specific activities of digestive enterocyte enzymes in the proximal intestine are significantly increased by supplementation with both types of fiber. Mucosal architecture and ultrastructure of both the small and large bowel are modified by fiber ingestion. The most dramatic effects are observed with those semipurified additives exhibiting marked bile-acid-and phospholipid-binding properties. The differential lipidemic responses to specific dietary fiber regimens suggest that critical regulatory events occur at the level of the intestinal lumen and/or at the brush-border transport site.


Bile Acid Dietary Fiber Wheat Bran Gastric Inhibitory Polypeptide Soluble Fiber 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marie M. Cassidy
    • 1
  • George V. Vahouny
    • 1
  1. 1.Departments of Physiology and BiochemistryThe George Washington University Medical CenterUSA

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