Fiber supplements boast many health benefits including digestion aid, weight control, building muscle and increasing regularity. Fiber, also called roughage, is the indigestible portion of plant food that pushes food through the digestive system. It acts by changing the nature of the contents of the gastrointestinal tract.
Who needs Fiber Supplements?
Fiber supplements are recommended to people who cannot get enough fiber through a healthy diet. However, physicians strongly suggest that people add fiber to their diet through natural sources found in food. Fiber supplements are beneficial in many ways especially to the following set of people.
People taking opiate-based medication: If you are on any opiate-based pain medication, even an adequate supply of daily fiber in the diet may not be enough to alleviate constipation. Adding fiber supplements in the form of pills or powders can help bulk up and soften the stool, making it easier to pass bowel movements.
People suffering from irritable bowel syndrome or spastic colon: If you suffer chronically from either constipation or diarrhea caused by these diseases, then fiber supplements may be of help to you. The bulking up properties of fiber supplements can help you firm stool and create fewer or more bowel movements.
People with nutritional restrictions: If you have any nutritional restriction because of recent surgery or past or existing health condition, then fiber supplements can be of help to you. In addition, if you are allergic to certain food, then consider fiber supplements for easy digestion and defecation. However, check with your physician about which type of fiber is best for you.
Remember, fiber supplements are always a last resort. Physicians opine that most natural source of fiber should come from the diet when possible.
Ingredients of fiber supplements
The fiber supplements that are sold in the market can chiefly contain:
Inulin: Iinulins or oligosaccharides occur naturally in plants and have nutritional value as carbohydrates or fructans. Inulin is extracted from chicory roots or Jerusalem artichokes for use in prepared foods. As a probiotic fermentable fiber, inulin improves the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Vegetable Gums: Relatively new to the market, vegetable gums are sold as a powder. They are effective for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.
Fiber supplements in the market
There are three main types of soluble fiber supplements that are sold in the market. Each of them has varying uses, side effects and properties.
Psyllium: This is taken to treat constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis. Psyllium serves as food for the beneficial bacteria in the gut. But it might cause gaseousness.
Methylcellulose: Used in treating constipation, diverticulosis, irritable bowel syndrome and some cases of diarrhea, methycellulose can be used daily as it is non-allergenic. Created from the cell wall of plants, methylcellulose absorbs water to create a softer stool. Methylcellulose is less likely to cause intestinal gas since it does not ferment.
Polycarbophil: Again, Polycarbophil helps in creating bulkier and softer stool. Derived from plants, this supplement is safer for prolonged use as it rarely causes bloating. It may be used to treat constipation, IBS and diverticulosis. This form of fiber does not suit those who have difficulty swallowing.
Fiber supplements are contraindicated with some medications. Hence, check with your physician before taking fiber supplements especially during the following conditions.
Depression: If you are on tricyclic anti-depressants or medications like carbamazepine, fiber supplements are likely to reduce the effectiveness of your medications.
Diabetes: Diabetics who are on glyburide and metformin must check with their physicians before using any fiber supplements.
Heart and cardiovascular conditions: Fiber supplements can reduce the absorption of digoxin. Fiber supplements, especially if they are of pectin or oat bran base may hamper the effect of statins.
Infections: Some studies show penicillin blood levels drop when fibre supplements are used.
Fiber supplements are contraindicated with medications that affect the body's fluid levels, like medicines for high blood pressure. They are also not recommended for those on medications for arrhythmia, congestive heart failure and aspirin.