Dietary fibre: a roughage guide


  • Funding: None

    Conflicts of interest: None

Correspondence to: Peter Gibson, Department of Gastroenterology, Box Hill Hospital, Level 8, Clive Ward Centre, Arnold Street, Box Hill, Vic. 3128, Australia. Email:



The concept of dietary fibre is a complex one that incorporates the physical and physiological functions of fibre and its effects both systemically and local to the gastro­intestinal tract. Dietary fibre can be usefully classified according to its solubility and fermentability, which allows rational clinical application. Fibres may act in several ways including by gel-forming effects in the stomach and small intestine, by its fermentation by colonic bacteria, by a ‘mop and sponge’ effect, and via concomitant changes in other aspects of the diet. These actions lead to potentially beneficial effects in the gastro­intestinal tract and systemically, such as lowering serum cholesterol and improving glycaemic control. Dietary fibre has been implicated in multiple clinical situations but, although an extensive literature on putative actions and proposed physiological bases is available, high-level evidence of efficacy is limited. Nevertheless, encouraging the intake of a high-fibre diet is likely to have a range of health benefits and physicians are encouraged to follow simple practical guidelines in their everyday practice. (Intern Med J 2003; 33: 291−296)