Do fiber supplements work?
I am not shy about elimination discussions. Being diagnosed with an intestinal disease will do that to a person! Ulcerative colitis has made me more familiar with intestines, bowels, and poop than I ever wanted to be. But on the bright side, it has led me to discover invaluable information about how to heal myself!
“Here, just take Metamucil”
I’ve always tended toward constipation. Since I was eight years old, doctors have been diligently repeating their “solution” to this issue: Eat more whole grains with fiber and take this Metamucil/Benefiber/Senna Tablets as needed.
I didn’t know that eating more whole grains was not only ineffective for my constipation, but was actually worsening my digestion.
I also didn’t realize that these laxitives were actually harming my intestines. For example, muscle-stimulating laxatives like Senna are actually addicting–your bowels become weakened and lazy by relying on the muscle stimulant.
Faithfully, I snacked on high fiber bread, fiber-fortified bars, and fiber-fortified cereals. As you can imagine, I felt confused and helpless when this prescribed regimine did nothing to promote regularity.
When I began a grain free diet, I removed these fiber-fortified foods from my life. Though I was consuming less fiber, my bowel movements became regular for the first time in my life. Though it confused me at the time, it makes sense after discovering the problems with fiber supplements.
1. Isolated Fiber is not a Real Food
Here are five questions that I suggest you ask yourself to determine if an item is real food:
- Is it a product or is it a food?
- Is it made with ingredients that humans have used for thousands of years?
- Is this something that your great-grandmother would recognize as food?
- Can you make it in your kitchen with grocery store ingredients?
- Is it advertised on TV?
Fiber supplements and fiber-fortified foods are fake food, just as much as canola oil is a fake food. In answer to the above questions, fiber supplements are products, not food. You won’t find isolated Metamucil or any such isolated fiber in nature, and neither would your grandmother recognize it as food. You can’t make it in your kitchen, and it is indeed advertised on TV.
If we consider the traditional diets that produced thriving cultures, we see that many diets contained little to no grain-based fiber.
As discovered by Weston A. Price, a 19th century nutrition pioneer, the Masai tribe subsisted on the meat, milk and blood from their cattle. The native Inuit also grew strong and healthy one a primarily animal-based diet of fish, fish eggs, seal oil, caribou. This was supplemented with plant products like kelp, berries and nuts.
2. Fiber supplements can worsen constipation
Fiber is most commonly applauded as a way to stay regular. The early studies that prompted the high fiber movement found that young, healthy study participants had better bowel movements. The participants were not constipated in the beginning. Current studies show that a high fiber diet may actually exacerbate constipation. According to Science Daily:
The role of dietary fiber to treat chronic constipation is exaggerated. A low fiber diet has been proven not to be the cause of constipation and the success of fiber intake as treatment is modest. The study reviewed conducted by Voderholzer et al showed that only 20% of slow transit patients benefited from fiber. Further data suggests that while many patients may be helped by a fiber-rich diet, some actually suffer from worse symptoms when increasing their fiber intake.
Why do fiber supplements worsen constipation? Because they are dehydrating. Whereas fruit and vegetables contain fiber paired with water and electrolytes, fiber supplements are stripped of these nutrients. Isolated fiber absorbs water in the digestive tract, which can make fecal matter more compact and difficult to eliminate.
3. Fiber supplements can throw gut flora out of whack
Consuming grain-based fiber and fiber-fortified foods can devastate gut flora. According to Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride in The Gut and Psychology Syndrome,
“A diet high in fiber from grains (brans and breakfast cereals in particular) has a profound negative effect on the gut flora, gut health and general body metabolism, predisposing the person to IBS, bowel cancer, nutritional deficiencies, and many other problems. Fruit and vegetables provide a much better quality fiber that is not as harsh on the digestive system.”
You may have noticed symptoms including gas, bloating and belching after eating fiber supplements. Isolated fiber consumption often produces these symptoms due to the fermentation action of gut bacteria.
Further, grain fiber contains large amounts of phytic acid, a compound which “locks” onto minerals like zinc, copper, iron and calcium. Traditional cultures practiced fermenting or soaking their grains to reduce the phytic acid and thereby making consumed minerals bioavailable. Of course, modern grain products, such as fiber-fortified bread and cereals, are not properly prepared and contain high amounts of phytic acid.
Real vs. Fake Fiber
Is all fiber bad? Certainly not! We do need to create a balanced fiber intake, however.
Soluble fiber, the fiber found in fruits and vegetables is much more gentle on the digestive tract. Small amounts of this fiber acts as food for the bacteria – friendly and unfriendly bugs alike – in our digestive tract and is called a prebiotic.
Insoluble fiber carries the problems discussed in this post. It is found in fiber-fortified foods, fiber supplements, and grain products like “whole grain” items, cereals, breads and pastas. The insoluble fiber content as well as other aspects make grains in general a strain on the digestive tract. All grains, but especially high fiber whole grain products, should be strictly limited (or completely avoided).
Here’s the important takeaway point from this whole post: We get all the fiber we need if we enjoy plenty of freshly-prepared vegetables.
5 Natural Constipation Remedies
If you are wondering how to address constipation without fiber supplements, I have you covered. I’ve been there, done that!
Read my post 5 steps to cure constipation naturally for steps that effectively address the root causes of constipation.
Thank you for this! Yes, the fiber worship has to stop. I was once a believer but I have permanent intestinal damage to show for my gullibility..
I began with constipation issues in my early 40s, despite a diet rich in fruits and vegs. I complied with my doctors’ advice to add fiber in the form of psyllium husk and I became a vegetarian. Over the years I got worse, I changed doctors, but I kept getting the same advice. I got worse yet. The last doctor added Miralax and I dutifully took it for six weeks despite feeling the worst I have ever felt. At that point I was up to 60-65 grams of fiber a day, still constipated, but now I had prolapsing hemorrhoids, copious bleeding, bloating, gas and belly noises that would stop a conversation at work.. I have had two colonoscopies and three hemorrhoid ligations.. Along the way I developed excruciating muscle cramps in my legs, feet and abdominal muscles and a heart arrhythmia, which are likely due to imbalance of calcium, magnesium and potassium, due to the damage done by the pressure of all that fiber.
I now have severe diverticulosis and frequent diverticulitis, as well as tubular adenoma polyps, all of which are supposedly should have been prevented by a lifetime of high fiber. As the years went on my ability to tolerate fiber plummeted. Now, I can’t so much as eat a salad without copious bleeding, bloating and nausea. I finally found a well-known specialist who told me to get off the fiber and gas-producing foods and I feel better now than I have in decades but much of the damage is permanent.
I write this hoping to raise the alarm so that others won’t fall into this trap. The fiber worship has to stop; there is no science behind it and yet the vast majority of doctors, nurses and nutritionists will urge it on you. Try it if you wish, but if it doesn’t help, STOP! No matter what the doctor says, just stop.
Hi. I just subscribed and am waiting for my confirmation email.:). This post really hits home. I have tried everything for regularity. Stool softeners, fiber bars, wheat. I actually got better once I quit eating wheat. Water, as I am learning, is not helping either.
I am looking all over your site and it is very good.
Hi Lauren! Liked your article. How many grams of fiber per day would you recommend to a 25 year old healthy woman?
Thank you for sharing your knowledge on this topic. I have had chronic constipation for about 10 years and took Miralax religiously for about nine years. I remember asking my doctor at the time if it was safe to take Miralax daily, and she said yes, that it would not be habit forming.
When the Miralax stopped working by itself, I added psyllium husk to my regimen. ( I did this this combo for about one to one and a half years).
The last 6-8 months I noticed that I would wake up very swollen. My eyes were very puffy as well as my hands. I could not understand why. I would at times weigh 3-4 pounds heavier over night. This was really scary, as I thought I had some sort of illness going on. I went to my doctor and had blood tests done, the results were normal. She had no idea, about the swelling, but ordered a colonoscopy.
I stopped the Miralax and the psyllium husk about two weeks prior to the colonoscopy, on my own, and noticed that I stopped waking up puffy or swollen. After my colonoscopy I was told that the Miralax had caused brown spots in my colon, and that this could not be reversed; I was told that I should have never taken it daily especially for that long.
I changed from the Miralax to Gentle Fibers by Jarrow Formulas, which I bought at Clarks, health store. It did what it is meant to do within a couple of hours of taking it. I have been taking it for almost one month, and I’m afraid that it will cause water retention as well or that it might harm me over time.
I would appreciate any feedback on the side effects of long term use on the Gentle Fibers. Thank you!! MK.
Please clear up my doubt, very important to me. Hello Lauren I love your posts and this blog, I know that your intention is not to force any ideas on anyone, and I have been cutting down on fibre and have seen some symptoms get better. But I have a confusion, because one of the things I stopped eating is brown rice, and I saw on a post that you advised to not eat brown rice because of the large fibre content, that it was better to eat normal white rice or even better quinoa, but then doing some research I found that in one cup of brown rice there was 3.5 grams of dietary fibre while in one cup of quinoa theres 12 grams. So did you not know this, or why do you say quinoa is better?
Or if anyone else can help me out please do.
I’ve had ulcerative colitis for years. Diagnosed in 1996, but suffered quite a few years before they finally decided to investigate. I’ve had periods of remission, but since 2010, I’m on a twice-week maintenance of what I call my “mousse” medication (up the back door lol).
4 days ago, after the worst night I’ve ever had with colitis, decided to put myself on a low fiber diet. Not recommended (apparently) long term, but the change has been dramatic. It’s a diet totally opposite to what I normally have (beans, brown rice, vegetables, oats – nothing raw though as I can’t tolerate that, but used to have it a lot).
I’m convinced now that the years I spent dutifully swallowing the intestinal equivalent of sandpaper have contributed to the colitis.
I’m 4 days into this diet now, and will remain on it for 6 weeks or so (as advised by the doctor).
It’s fine though – I like white bread and saltines! Yum!
Dear Lauren thank you for always brining important info. I suffer recently from severe bloating since i am baking coconut flour bread with psyllium husk powder ? Also i like quest bars?
Are they all harmfull? Should i stop them all ? Or is coconut flour ok since i am on paleo diet ?
Want to read more about the truth of Fiber? Get the Fiber Menace from Konstantin Monartyrsky.
http://www.gutsense.org. You will find lots of good stuff in his site.
I loved this post. I read your posts pretty regularly and you always
do a good job articulating the whatever topic you’re writing about.
Btw, I shared this on LinkedIn and my followers loved
it. Keep up the great work!
Is there any ingredient in in Fiber Well to cause a reaction, like breaking out in a skin rash