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Four kinds of fiber supplements for a stubborn system

Today I will broach an embarrassing and often uncomfortable topic: intestinal and bowel health.

I think everybody needs some fine-tuning now and again as we face changes in diet and lifestyle. A business trip could lead you to forgo healthier options or a surge in stress at work may force you to grab calorie-filled, fiber-low meals, like burgers and pizzas, while you’re on the go.

For me, I’ve had a sensitive stomach since a two-week biking trip in Nepal, so if I eat sashimi or salad that has been lying around, I may have to run to the toilet the very next day. In the search for a natural remedy, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a bit of psyllium husk in my daily smoothie for a week helped my system to balance itself out. Thus began my research into the types of fiber supplements out there.

A high-fiber diet with whole grains, fresh fruit, and vegetables is seriously the only long-term solution to achieve an intestinal system that ticks like clockwork. But there are fiber supplements available to give the old engine a kick in the butt. Many experts would not encourage consuming fiber supplements daily and would advise a cap of a week or two. One precaution for all types is you should drink at least eight ounces of fluid so you would prevent the fiber from blocking your esophagus.

It is common to assume that fiber supplements are only for those who are constipated, but they can help people who have diarrhea, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Toxins and bacteria that cause such infections can be absorbed and passed out.

Also, if you are suffering pain from hemorrhoids, fiber supplements can form softer stools to make bowel movement easier. Other benefits touted include lowering cholesterol levels and slowing down the absorption of sugar in diabetics.

Let’s look at four popular types of fiber supplements available in health food stores:

Psyllium
You have probably heard of Metamucil® or Fiberall® — both are powdered pysllium concoctions meant to be drunk with at least eight ounces (one milk glass) of water or juice. Some fortified cereals contain psyllium or it can be mixed with a probiotic supplement in capsule form. How it works is it absorbs liquid in the intestines and swells to form bulky stool. Not only does this fiber supplement relieve constipation, but it can also soothe stomach ulcers and indigestion. Another lesser-known fact is pysllium can be made into a poultice to treat skin boils.

Polycarbophil
The full name of this fiber supplement is calcium polycarbophil which is actually a calcium salt derived from a hydrophilic resin. The brand names associated with polycarbophil are Equalactin®, FiberCon®, Fiber-Lax®, Konsyl® fiber tablets and Phillips’® fibercaps. Polycarbophil has slightly negative drug interactions — it decreases the effect of the following: oral anti-coagulants, digoxin, potassium-sparing diuretics, salicylates, tetracycline, and ciprofloxacin.

Methylcellulose
Made from cellulose, this chemical compound is used in Citrucel, a popular laxative used to treat constipation and diarrhea. When consumed, methylcellulose is not absorbed by the intestines while it extracts large amounts of water into the colon to produce softer, bulkier waste. Its working principle is similar to the fiber supplements mentioned above. Very viscous in nature when in contact with fluids, doctors would advise drinking a lot of water to prevent dehydration.

Guar gum
This South Asian product acts as a thickening agent in cooking (its thickening power is eight times more than corn starch) and a natural appetite suppressant, but it is also used to treat constipation and diarrhea. Japanese research studies have proven that calcium is better absorbed if you are taking guar gum, which translates to a lesser need to consume calcium-rich dairy products that are high in calories and cholesterol.

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