Does fiber foil ulcers?

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It may feel like your boss, your teenager, or your credit cards bills are giving you an ulcer. In fact, too little fiber--and a common stomach infection--may be to blame, says a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health.

In 1986, Edward Giovannucci and colleagues collected diet information on nearly 48,000 dentists, optometrists, and other male health professionals. After six years, they compared the diets of the 138 men who were diagnosed with an ulcer in the duodenum--the part of the small intestine closets to the stomach--to the diets of those who didn't develop ulcers.

The results: Men who consumed an average of 30 grams of fiber a day were roughly half as likely to get an ulcer as men who averaged 13 grams a day. Fiber from beans seemed to lower the risk of ulcers more than fiber from fruits and vegetables, while fiber from breads, cereals, and other grains had little or no effect.

"Infection with Helicobacter pylori is likely to be an important component of getting an ulcer, but a lot of people are exposed to the bacteria, and they don't all get ulcers," says Giovannucci. "That's where factors like fiber come in.

"A major cause of ulcers is that acid from the stomach empties quickly into the duodenum, where it causes irritation," he adds. Soluble fiber in foods like beans may slow the stomach's emptying.

American Journal of Epidemiology 145: 42, 1997

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By Bonnie Liebman

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