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While fibre is linked to endless health benefits, including a healthy gut and a lower risk of bowel cancer, one type of this carb might not be so beneficial. What’s worse, consuming this food could even put you at risk of liver cancer, according to research.
From weight loss to the prevention of chronic diseases, fibre-enriched foods are a popular option that promises to boost your health.
However, some individuals could see their risk of liver cancer rise when it comes to refined fibre.
Available in supermarkets as a health-promoting prebiotic or as an ingredient in many processed foods, researchers suggest that the likes of inulin – a type of dietary fibre – can be harmful.
The study, published in the journal Gastroenterology, saw mice models develop “aggressive” cancer following consumption of an inulin-containing diet.
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Senior author Doctor Matam Vijay-Kumar said: “We have worked for a long time on this idea that all diseases start from the gut.
“This study is a notable advancement of that concept.
“It also provides clues that may help identify individuals at a higher risk for liver cancer and potentially enable us to lower that risk with simple dietary modifications.”
The research team explained that people who suffer from a vascular deformity in which blood from the intestines bypasses the liver seem to be at a particularly higher risk when consuming refined fibre.
The research findings
First, Doctor Vijay-Kumar published a major paper that established the connection between liver cancer in mice and inulin.
While inulin is linked to metabolic health benefits, the researcher and his colleagues discovered that about one in 10 seemingly healthy mice developed liver cancer after eating an inulin-rich diet.
Doctor Vijay-Kumar said: “That was very surprising, given how rarely liver cancer is observed in mice.
“The findings raised real questions about the potential risks of certain refined fibres, but only now do we understand why the mice were developing such aggressive cancer.”
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Further investigation helped to discover that the mice, which developed malignant tumours, had high concentrations of bile acids in their blood due to a vascular defect.
This type of blood contains high levels of microbial products which can trigger inflammation – one of the key drivers of cancer.
The mice models reacted to this inflammation by developing an anti-inflammatory response that dampens the immune response and also reduces their ability to detect and kill cancer cells.
Interestingly, all mice with excess bile acids were predisposed to liver problems but only those fed inulin developed the “deadly” condition.
“Remarkably, 100 percent of the mice with high bile acids in their blood went on to develop cancer when fed inulin,” the researchers wrote.
While vascular defects like those in mice are “relatively rare” in humans, the researchers also warned that given they don’t cause any noticeable symptoms, their incidence may be much higher.
Furthermore, the team also conducted human research which showed that men with high levels of blood bile acid, who had a high fibre intake, conferred a 40 percent higher risk of liver cancer.
Based on the findings, Doctor Vijay-Kumar and his team highlight the need for regular blood bile acid levels testing as well as a “cautious approach” to fibre in people with higher-than-normal levels of these acids in their blood.
While the researchers are not arguing against the health-promoting benefits of the carbohydrate, they do urge paying attention to what kind of fibre you eat.
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