The human microbiota is increasingly recognized as a major factor influencing health and well-being, with potential benefits as diverse as improved immunity, reduced risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and improved cognition and mood. Bacteria inhabiting the gut are dependent on the provision of fermentable dietary substrates making diet a major factor driving the composition of the human gut microbiota. Dietary fiber may modify microbiota abundance, diversity, and metabolism including short-chain fatty acid production. The majority of research to date has explored isolated fibers, and the influence of habitual fiber consumption is less well-established. The aim of the current article was to systematically review evidence from human intervention studies for the effects of intact cereal fibers, and their active sub-fractions, on gut microbiota composition in healthy adults. Studies published in the past 20 years were identified through the PubMed and Cochrane electronic databases. Inclusion criteria were: healthy adult participants (>18 years), inclusion of at least one intact cereal fiber, or its sub-fraction, and measurement of fecal microbiota related outcomes. As every individual has a unique microbiota many trials utilized a cross-over design where individuals acted as their own control. Outcome measures included change to the microbiota, species diversity, or species abundance, or metabolic indicators of microbiota fermentation such as short chain fatty acids or fecal nitrogen. Two hundred and twenty three publications were identified and 40 included in the final review. In discussing the findings, particular attention has been paid to the effects of wheat fiber, bran, and arabinoxylans (AXOS) as this is the dominant source of fiber in many Western countries. Thirty-nine of the forty-two studies demonstrated an increase in microbiota diversity and/or abundance following intact cereal fiber consumption, with effects apparent from 24 h to 52 weeks. Increases in wheat fiber as low as 6-8 g were sufficient to generate significant effects. Study duration ranged from 1 day to 12 weeks, with a single study over 1 year, and exploration of the stability of the microbiota following long-term dietary change is required. Increasing cereal fiber consumption should be encouraged for overall good health and for gut microbiota diversity.
Keywords: systematic review; cereal fiber; dietary fiber; gut microbiome; gut microbiota; prebiotic; wheat bran; wheat fiber.