Dietary fiber is a plant product that is commonly present in food but cannot be digested by the intestinal tract. It adds bulk to the diet but does not offer nutrition. Much time and money are spent by the food industry to eliminate fiber from prepared foods. Fiber is important in the normal function of the intestinal tract.
It is easier for food and other nutrients to move down the intestinal tract if there also is sufficient bulk. The effect is much like that we all experience with a toothpaste tube. When the tube is new and full of toothpaste it takes little effort to squeeze it out. When the tube is nearly empty it needs to be rolled up and pressed hard to get even a little toothpaste out. When your intestine is full, it takes little effort to move the contents on. When it is relatively empty, the intestine must struggle and squeeze to move its contents.
This increase in squeeze needed to move material in a nearly empty intestine may cause the formation of diverticula, cramps, and other symptoms. Changes in the intestine from this can take a long time to develop.
Important Points in Treatment
Fiber therapy is directed toward replacement of fiber that food processing has removed from our diet. This may be accomplished by eating foods naturally high in fiber content or by taking a fiber supplement daily.
The benefit of natural supplementation of fiber by eating foods with a high fiber content is that it avoids the cost of medication. The problem is that there are relatively few foods high enough in fiber content, and a steady diet becomes monotonous. Fiber is derived from plants. The cereal plants are particularly high in fiber. Whole wheat, wheat bran, and oats are excellent sources. Most other vegetables contain some fiber, but it is difficult to regularly eat enough vegetables to maintain an adequate fiber supplement. Except for the daily use of high-fiber cereals for breakfast, dietary supplementation of fiber tends to be inconsistent.
A number of fiber supplements are designed to be taken as medicine rather than food. These include natural compounds, usually the husk of the psyllium seed, and synthetic compounds including polycarbophil and methylcellulose. These compounds work well but must be taken with adequate fluids to prevent them from clumping into a plug in the intestine. Many are designed to be mixed with water or other drinks and are flavored. These compounds must be taken regularly to be effective.
Notify Our Office If ...
- You have difficulty with constipation.
- You experience rectal bleeding.
- You have cramping abdominal discomfort.