Eating Fiber During Pregnancy…Likely a Really Good Idea

Ok,  on Tuesday I promised you a markedly less depressing post next time.  So here goes!  (And please note irresistibly cute, happy photo of little piglets included…)

A funny little coincidence this morning….

(But first, a quick primer on fiber, which I talk about regularly on this blog as its importance cannot be understated:

Fiber is the part of plants that cannot be digested by humans.  Soluble fiber absorbs water and gets turned into gel which slows digestion.  Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and aids the passage of food through the digestive tract.  Both are incredibly important for good health!)

Health Food with High Fiber Content

A couple of days ago, I read an article on how the addition of soluble fiber (found in foods like bananas and apples or in prebiotic supplements) to the maternal pig diet has a hugely positive effect on their piglets.[i]  Pigs are often used in such lab experiments, as their organ systems are about 90% the same as humans in terms of anatomy and function.  The sows were split, one group acting as controls who were fed a normal diet.  The second group had soluble fiber added to their diets.  The researchers then measured growth and the incidence of diarrhea in their 14 day old piglets, and also looked at the babies’ gut microbiota, metabolism, gut permeability and inflammation status.  The effects were not subtle: “Our data reveal that a maternal SF [soluble fiber] diet during pregnancy has remarkable effects on offspring’s growth traits, intestinal permeability and inflammation may via modulating the composition and metabolism of gut microbiota.”

That is, the piglets born of the diet-enhanced sows grew markedly better, and had less diarrhea, healthier microbiota, higher levels of anti-inflammatory short chain fatty acids, higher levels of regulatory cytokines, and so on.

The scientists conclude:

“These findings have direct implications for refining dietary recommendations in pregnancy. Moreover, a maternal soluble fiber diet reduces intestinal permeability, prevents intestinal inflammation and excessive systemic immune response of suckling piglets. Therefore, the suckling piglets’ resistance to disease was enhanced, diarrhea was reduced and weight gain was raised. Additionally, the changes of gut microbiota in response to a maternal soluble fiber diet may also direct correlated with the offspring’s growth and gut development.”

Happy news!  🙂

Now for the coincidence: as I sat down at my desk this morning, preparing to write this blog post, I noticed a press release about research just concluded in humans that shows that the maternal human diet affects the gut biomes of babies.[ii]   These researchers found 6 week old babies’ microbiomes fit into distinct patterns depending on mode of birth (i.e. vaginal versus c-section) and maternal diet (more fruit versus more red and processed meat, for example).  They conclude that their study “…demonstrates an association of a readily modifiable factor, maternal diet, with the infant gut microbiome. This knowledge may be key for developing evidence-based dietary recommendations for pregnant and lactating women.”

As usual, I am always looking for things you can do now with reasonable certainty of them helping and not hurting.  Seems to me that a good first step for all moms-to-be is to be sure to eat plenty of plant-based, fiber-filled foods!


[i] Cheng, C, Wei, H, Xu,C, Xie,X, Jiang, S, Peng, J. Maternal soluble fiber diet during pregnancy changes the intestinal microbiota, improves growth performance, and reduces intestinal permeability in piglets. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2018 Jun 29. pii: AEM.01047-18. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01047-18


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