Can fiber help gut bacteria fight against antibiotic resistance?

Can fiber help gut bacteria fight against antibiotic resistance?Share on Pinterest
Eating more fiber could be key to having fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the gut. Alba Vitta/Stocksy
  • Fiber is an essential component of a healthy diet, and researchers are still discovering more about its importance.
  • Antibiotic resistance has become a growing issue in recent years, increasing people’s risks for severe illness and limiting treatment options.
  • A recent study found that increasing fiber in diet from diverse food sources could help decrease antibiotic resistance in the gut.

Antimicrobial resistance is an ever-growing problem. It happens when microorganisms like bacteria adapt so, antibiotics cannot kill them off. People can have more severe infections and illnesses when antibiotic resistance increases. Experts are working to understand why antibiotic resistance happens and how to reduce it.

A study published in mBio examined the impact fiber has on antimicrobial resistance.

Researchers found that a diverse diet with high fiber was associated with lower levels of antimicrobial resistance in gut bacteria.

As per the Food and Drug Administration, fiber is a carbohydrate that the body doesn’t digest well. However, dietary fiber is essential for a healthy gut. There are two main types of fiber:

  • Soluble dietary fiber dissolves in water and provides some nutrients to the body.
  • Insoluble dietary fiber does not provide nutrients but helps the body in other ways.

Fiber provides a variety of health benefits to the body. For example, it helps clean away buildup in the intestines, thus decreasing the risk of colon cancer. All fiber types also help increase feelings of fullness, thus helping people consume appropriate nutrition amounts.

However, fiber’s benefits may reach even further than the health benefits experts have already discovered.

Antimicrobials are medications doctors use to treat infections caused by microorganisms. One of the most common examples would be antibiotics, which doctors use to treat bacterial infections. Sometimes “antimicrobial” and “antibiotic” may be used interchangeably, according to the CDC.

Antimicrobial resistance happens when bacteria or other microorganisms adapt so that they become resistant to the effects of antibiotics.

The body is home to trillions of microbes or bacteria which are collectively known as the microbiome.

In recent years, the problem of antibiotic resistance has grown, leading to serious illness and even death. Many groups and organizations have drawn attention to the problem, including the Antimicrobial Resistance Fighter Coalition. The group explained in a recent Facebook post:

“A study in The Lancet recently found that of the 1.27 million deaths directly attributable to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in 2019, 73% were caused by just six pathogens. This is why it’s so important for everyone to be aware of AMR and take steps to understand more about it and prevent it.”

However, there are a lot of unknowns about how diet could impact antimicrobial resistance, and this relationship was something researchers of the current study sought to examine.

In the study, researchers looked at the diets of over 250 participants and also at the genes of those participants’ gut microbiome. Specifically, they looked for antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs).

The study participants were healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 66 and the majority of participants were white. The researchers saw there was great diversity when it came to the makeup and amount of ARGs among this relatively small population.

Researchers collected data from participants, including diet, physical activity levels, and blood samples. Participants provided stool samples so that researchers could examine the genetic makeup of the participants’ gut microbiomes.

The researchers discovered that “individuals who consumed diverse diets that were high in fiber and low in animal protein had fewer antibiotic resistance genes.”

Study author Dr. Danielle G. Lemay explained their findings to Medical News Today.

“We found that people who consume more diverse diets with more soluble fiber have lower numbers of antimicrobial resistance genes in their gut microbiomes. Therefore, a diverse diet high in soluble fiber potentially reduces the risk of an antibiotic-resistant infection.”
— Dr. Danielle G. Lemay

There are limitations to the current study. Its observational nature means it could not determine a cause and it relied on self-reporting of diet data.

According to Dr. Lemay, more research is needed on the impact of animal proteins on ARG and to assess the impact of participants’ use of antibiotics or other treatments that may have contributed to ARGs detected.

Dr. Lemay went on to explain:

“In the study, we examined people at a snapshot in time. What we need to do in the future is a study in which we feed people a diverse diet, high in soluble fiber, to see if we can reduce the antimicrobial resistance of their gut bacteria.”

But overall, the results of this study are encouraging because it links simple diet steps with reducing health problems like antimicrobial resistance.

If further research confirms these findings, it could shift dietary recommendations. As people change their diets, we might even see a decrease in antimicrobial resistance.