Keeping Things Moving: Fiber Basics
On average, an American adult currently eats between 10-15 grams of fiber each day. However, for good health, children and adults need between 20-35 grams per day. Fiber is not only beneficial for preventing and treating constipation, fiber is also vital for overall intestinal health. Although the body cannot digest fiber, the billions of microscopic beneficial bacteria that live inside the intestinal tract use fiber for fermentation. This in turn produces short-chain fatty acids, which the cells inside the intestinal tract convert into energy.
Which fiber is which?
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Each is equally important for keeping the intestines healthy.
Soluble fiber mixes evenly with water to form a soft gel that bulks up the stools. Sources of soluble fiber include:
- Whole grain bread
Insoluble fiber forms an uneven mix with water, forming a soft pulp that bulks up the stool and eases the transition. Sources of insoluble fiber include:
- Wheat bran
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Digestion of fiber
The body absorbs neither soluble nor insoluble fiber during digestion, so fiber does not add to a person’s calories. What each fiber type does is increase the volume of stool masses. A bulkier stool passes through the colon more easily, so larger, softer stools improve constipation. Insoluble fiber also encourages the contraction of the colon.
Increasing movement: fiber supplementation
People who have a diet which is lacking in fiber can take a high fiber supplement to help digestion, prevent constipation, and cleanse the colon. Fiber supplements are not digested by the body but pass through the stomach and intestines intact. Here are some examples of fiber supplements.
Psyllium comes from the seed husks of Plantago ovata. Psyllium is rich in dietary fiber and is the main ingredient in several over-the-counter laxatives. As well as helping to prevent constipation, this type of fiber also lowers cholesterol levels. The suggested adult dosage is 20-35 grams per day.
Methylcellulose is a bulk-forming fiber that expands as the substance passes through the intestines by absorbing water. Methylcellulose can help reduce constipation and also slow down the effects of diarrhea. The recommended dosage is one sachet of powder missed with an 8-ounce glass of water.
Polycarbophil is similar to methylcellulose and is also derived from plant sources. This type of fiber bulks up the stool by absorbing water during the passage through the intestines. The suggested dosage is one tablet with a full glass of water up to four times per day.
Getting the fiber right
Knowing how much fiber is enough is vital for maintaining gut and intestinal health. Fiber can also help to protect people from many digestive disorders such as IBS and GERD. Make sure to include fiber in meals daily. Patients can talk to a physician or pharmacist to find out if fiber supplementation is the right option.