When we think about our immune system, we don't instantly zoom in on the gut. And yet an astonishing eighty percent of the immune system actually lives in our GI tract. For most of those immune cells, it's the intestinal wall that is home sweet home. Many of them spend their entire lives secreting huge quantities of immune antibodies into the gut. Those antibodies help protect us from pathogens and infection.

Our gut is under stress today because of our industrialized food supply, which beckons us daily with seemingly irresistible processed, high-sugar, high-fat, low-fiber foods. None of those 'foods' feed our gut flora the way a diet rich in healthy whole grains, fruits and vegetables can. When our gut flora is balanced, our gut's immune system functions optimally.

Take fiber, for instance. It is essential to gut health and provides food for our friendly gut bacteria. The average adult consumes about 15 grams of fiber per day. Yet optimal amounts for good gut health are two to three times higher—25 grams of fiber per day for women, and 38 grams per day for men, according to the Institute of Medicine. This nourishing fiber is essentially indigestible to us, but is a perfect meal for our friendly microbes.

A Highly Beneficial Soluble Fiber

One versatile and well-tolerated, gentle fiber comes in the form of acacia gum. This natural gum, derived from the sap of the acacia tree, has been used in medicine and as a baking ingredient for many centuries. Acacia gum is packed with soluble fiber—95%--and that fiber offers unique benefits. [1]

Daily consumption of soluble fiber has been shown to increase levels of beneficial gut bacteria, support healthy cholesterol levels, soothe sensitive stomachs, help normalize gut transit time and both ease constipation and yet improve diarrhea, and have a beneficial effect on blood sugar, blood pressure and weight.[2],[3],[4] Many of these benefits are correlated with the ability of the soluble fiber, such as acacia, to attract water and form a soothing gel. (In contrast, insoluble fiber, such as that found in bran or psyllium, provides bulk to the waste in the digestive tract and helps regulate bowel function).

Acacia is also very well tolerated, even by sensitive individuals. In a 2003 study, the gum did not trigger adverse gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas and diarrhea, even when consumed at high doses of 30 grams a day.[5] Acacia gum is popular among those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, which leads to bloating, gas, and alternating constipation and diarrhea. When mixed with yogurt and bifidobacteria, acacia gum has a substantial beneficial effect on irritable bowel syndrome.[6]

As far back as 1983, scientists discovered the ability of acacia gum to significantly lower cholesterol.[7] This was confirmed in further research in 1997, and again in 2015.[8],1 And acacia, like other prebiotics, may help regulate blood sugar. By replacing typical sugars in foods, they can lower the glycemic response after eating a meal. In addition, acacia has been shown to reduce inflammatory cytokines.[9]

Prebiotics: Ideal Nourishment for Your Friendly Flora

But perhaps acacia is most valued for its reputation as a well-tolerated prebiotic—ideal food for our beneficial flora, selectively stimulating the growth of gut microbes such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.

More than twenty studies have been conducted since the late 1970s to unpack the relationship between gum acacia and our gut flora. Acacia's prebiotic impact on our gut flora is substantial; it not only selectively stimulates our beneficial flora, it can help reduce troublesome strains such as clostridium. It appears to resist digestion and absorption in the stomach and small intestine, and instead is metabolized entirely in the colon by our flora, and cannot be recovered at all from stool.[10] When fermented in the colon by bacteria, it yields two important short-chain fatty acids, butyrate and propionate, both of which are beneficial to the immune and epithelial cells in the gut.[11]

The importance of prebiotics cannot be overstated, for in the colon a true symbiosis between our gut bacteria, and the immune and nervous system exists. Studies show soluble fibers' beneficial impacts in conditions ranging from irritable bowel disease to Type 2 diabetes and obesity.[12]

If you think about the magnificent work your gut carries out every day—breaking down food, absorbing its life-giving nutrients, getting rid of toxins, communicating constantly with the immune and nervous systems—you may conclude it makes sense to pamper it. Gut bacteria thrive or starve, depending on what you feed them. Providing your gut—and thus your whole body health—with a soluble fiber with demonstrated benefits makes sense.

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[1] Mohamed RE, Gadour MO, Adam I. The lowering effect of Gum Arabic on hyperlipidemia in Sudanese patients. Front Physiol. 2015 May 18;6:160. View Abstract

[2] Eswaran S, Muir J, Chey WD. Fiber and functional gastrointestinal disorders. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013 May;108(5):718-27. View Abstract.

[3] Silva FM, Kramer CK, de Almeida JCet al. Fiber intake and glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review with meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Rev. 2013 Dec;71(12):790-801. View Abstract

[4] Chutkan R, Fahey G, Wright WL, McRorie J. Viscous versus nonviscous soluble fiber supplements: mechanisms and evidence for fiber-specific health benefits. J Am Acad Nurse Pract. 2012 Aug;24(8):476-87. View Abstract

[5] Cherbut C, Michel C, Raison V, et al. Accacia gum is a bifidogenic dietary fiber with high digestive tolerance in healthy humans. Microbial Ecol Health Dis2003; 15, 43–50.

[6] Yang Won Min, Sang Un Park, Yeon Sil Jang Effect of composite yogurt enriched with acacia fiber and Bifidobacterium lactis World J Gastroenterol. 2012 Sep 7; 18(33): 4563–4569. View Full Paper

[7] Ross AH, Eastwood MA, Brydon WG A study of the effects of dietary gum arabic in humans.

Am J Clin Nutr. 1983 Mar;37(3):368-75. View Abstract

[8] Mee KA, Gee DL.Apple fiber and gum arabic lowers total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in men with mild hypercholesterolemia J Am Diet Assoc. 1997 Apr;97(4):422-4. View Abstract

[9] Daguet d, Pinheiro I, VVerhelst A, et al. Acacia gum improves the gut barrier functionality in vitro. Agro FOOD Industry Hi Tech 26(4) 2015;29-33.

[10] Ross AH, Eastwood MA, Brydon WG A study of the effects of dietary gum arabic in humans.

Am J Clin Nutr. 1983 Mar;37(3):368-75. View Abstract

[11] Walter DJ, Eastwood MA, Brydon WG, Elton RA. Fermentation of wheat bran and gum arabic in rats fed on an elemental diet. Br.J.Nutr. 1988;60:225-32.

[12] Roberfroid M, Gibson GR, Hoyles L et al. Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits. Br J Nutr. 2010 Aug;104 Suppl 2:S1-63 View Abstract