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Gastrointestinal Disease

Role of High Fiber Diet in Gastrointestinal Disease

Gastrointestinal diseases may occur as a result of infection with viruses (e.g. Cholera), bacteria (e.g. Salmonellosis) or parasites (e.g. Ascariasis). Other forms of gastrointestinal disorders can occur due to a genetic predisposition for malignancies or due to anatomical and physiological dysfunction. However, the most commonly encountered gastrointestinal disorders belong to the category of functional bowel diseases such as diarrhea and constipation which can manifest due to multiple etiological factors.

The American diet is predominantly rich in protein and deficient in fiber which results in the occurrence of constipation primarily in the elderly though it is encountered in obese youngsters with sedentary lifestyles as well (NDDIC, 2007). Other diseases which are preventable with a high fiber diet include diverticular disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease and up to a certain extent cholelithiasis, duodenal ulcers, hemorrhoids and hiatal hernias (McDonald et al, 1983). In older people, additional factors such as pre-existing co-morbidities, exposure to therapeutic pharmacological agents, poor masticatory function can also contribute to gastrointestinal malfunction (Brodeur et al, 1993). Functional gastrointestinal disorders are those which cannot be attributed to anatomical dysfunction or pathology. Functional diarrhea and constipation are the two gastrointestinal disorders which can be treated with adequate intake of fiber alone. The movement of the bowels is under autonomic control and irregular eating habits, exposure to drugs, propensity to take junk foods and beverages rich in caffeine can upset their equilibrium. This can result in either functional diarrhea or constipation.

Including fiber in the diet can address most problems as the cellulose from the fiber rich cereals adds bulk to the stool as well increases the water of the gastrointestinal contents (Insel et al, 2010). However, the increase in fiber diet should not be abrupt as it can lead to problems like bloating and flatulence. Water intake should also be simultaneously increased in order to make the gastrointestinal tract adjust to the dietary change.