Gut protector

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Fiber may check duodenal ulcers

Please pass the plants. A study has confirmed another benefit of a fiber-rich diet: a healthier gut. In the first large study to look at a preventive link between diet and duodenal ulcers, Harvard researchers found that those who averaged 30 grams of fiber a day cut their risk of duodenal ulcers in half. These ulcers occur in the small intestine, or duodenum, and are 2 to 3 times more common than gastric (stomach) ulcers. The study followed 48,000 men (ages 40 to 75) over a 6-year period and saw 138 newly diagnosed ulcers develop over this time. (Presented at the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, San Diego, May 1995, and scheduled for publication in the January 1997 American Journal of Epidemiology.)

A previous study had suggested that fiber could promote ulcer healing and minimize the recurrence, but this is the first to demonstrate a possible protective role. "Although H. pylori bacteria can predispose the stomach and duodenal lining to ulcers, we know that only a small percentage of people with the bacteria will go on to develop ulcers," says Walid Aldoori, MD, ScD, study author and research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health. Ulcer formation remains a bit of a mystery involving natural acid secretions and the resistance to those secretions by the tissues that line the stomach and duodenum. Scientists aren't exactly certain just how fiber might hinder the process.

Fruit, vegetables and legumes (mostly beans) were the main contributors of fiber in the men's diets. Getting the recommended minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day is the wisest first step to reach the ulcer-curbing fiber levels in this study, says Dr. Aldoori. Then choosing from among beans, dried peas, lentils, high-fiber cereals and whole-grain foods can put you smack-dab in this fiber-rich range (which, of course, offers many other benefits, as we've reported here).

The study also saw a strong link between higher intakes of vitamin A (from all sources, dietary and/or multivitamin supplements) and fewer ulcers. This is a new observation, and Dr. Aldoori stresses that it will need to be researched further. Consider dried fruits like apricots, peaches and prunes possible double-duty antiulcer foods: They're packed with fiber and vitamin A. Ditto for orangy veggies like carrots, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. A few high-fiber cereals provide substantial A, too: Check the labels. (The RDA for vitamin A is 5,000 international units, and can be found in some multi-tablets. Exceeding this amount in supplement form is not recommended.)

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By SUSAN FLAGG GODBEY, YUN LEE WOLFE AND COLIN BEAVAN WITH SARAH ROBERTSON AND LAURA GOLDSTEIN

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