Consuming more fiber could help people with type 2 diabetes protect their hearts.

A study by the maker of a fiber supplement shows that when people with type 2 diabetes used the supplement for 90 days they improved their heart disease risk factors. Specifically, the study showed their total cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol, and triglyceride levels fell while HDL "good" cholesterol increased.

The findings were reported in Washington, D.C., at the American Heart Association's Sixth Annual Conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

However, fiber doesn't just come in supplements. It's naturally found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes.

The recommended fiber intake is 20-35 grams per day for healthy adults, says the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Many people don't meet that goal; average daily fiber intake is 14-15 grams, says the ADA.

Fiber Supplement Study

"The product was designed to fill that gap between the real intake and the advised intake," says researcher Peter Verdegem, PhD, in a news release. Verdegem is the chief scientific officer of Utah-based Unicity International, the maker of the fiber supplement used in the diabetes study.

Verdegem's study included 78 people with type 2 diabetes. They were 59 years old, on average.

At the start and end of the study, blood samples were taken to measure total cholesterol, triglycerides (a fat linked to heart disease and diabetes), HDL "good" cholesterol, and LDL "bad" cholesterol.

For 90 days, the diabetes patients added 10-15 grams of the fiber supplement to their normal diet. They drank the supplement, called BiosLife 2, in five-gram doses two to three times daily five to 10 minutes before eating.

The supplement contains both soluble and insoluble fiber from guar gum, gum arabic, locust bean gum, pectin, and oat fiber dispersed in calcium carbonate; B-vitamins and chromium are also included.

Other companies also make fiber supplements. Verdegem's study did not compare different versions, so the results do not indicate which, if any, might work best.

Before-and-After Results

The findings show "clear beneficial effects" in all categories measured, say the researchers. The heart disease risk factors of the participants improved. Heart disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related death, according to the AHA.

Here are the before-and-after results:

—Average total cholesterol: 215 mg/dL before; 184 mg/dL after (14 percent decrease)
—Average triglycerides: 299 mg/dL before; 257 mg/dL after (14 percent decrease)
—Average LDL cholesterol: 129 mg/dL before; 92 mg/dL after (29 percent decrease)
—Average HDL cholesterol: 43 mg/dL before; 55 mg/dL after (22 percent increase)

The added supplement resulted in improved and near target levels of the participants' blood cholesterol profile.

"With a normal pharmaceutical intervention, you see a decrease in LDL but not an increase in HDL to these levels," says Verdegem in a news release. "It is usually only a one-sided effect."

In the news release, Verdegem says the study demonstrates that dietary fiber supplements may be an alternative to cholesterol-lowering statin drugs for people with moderately high cholesterol who are unable or unwilling to take statins.

Food Sources of Fiber

Want to increase your fiber intake through food? Here is some information on the total dietary fiber content for several plant-based foods:

—One large apple with skin: 3.7 grams
—One banana: 2.8 grams
—Five prunes: 3 grams
—One pear: 4 grams
—Canned kidney beans (half cup): 4.5 grams
—Cooked lentils (half cup): 7.8 grams
—Iceberg lettuce (one cup, shredded): 0.8 grams
—Raw broccoli (half cup): 1.3 grams
—Whole-wheat bread (one slice): 1.9 grams
—White bread (one slice): 0.6 grams
—Raisin bran (one cup): 7.5 grams
—Wheat bran flakes (three quarters of a cup): 4.6 grams
—Brown rice (one cup, cooked): 3.5 grams
—Mixed nuts (one ounce, dry roasted): 2.6 grams

The ADA published those values in the July 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The federal government's new "My Pyramid" guidelines also emphasize fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Real-World Example

How might those numbers translate into daily life?

Let's say you had Raisin bran and a banana at breakfast, an ounce of nuts and an apple as snacks, a sandwich with two slices of whole-wheat bread at lunch, and a dinner salad with iceberg lettuce, raw broccoli, and kidney beans. That would give you 27 grams of fiber for the day.

Add some veggies to the sandwich (lettuce and tomato count) and choose a healthy entrée at dinner, and your fiber intake is even higher, without any supplements.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: American Heart Association's Sixth Annual Conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, Washington, D.C., April 28-30, 2005. News release, American Heart Association. American Dietetic Association, "Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber," Journal of the American Dietetic Association, July 2002; vol 102: pp 993-1000.