Fiber Supplements for IBS

I've read that I should take fiber supplements for my IBS. Are they helpful?
Q: I’ve read that I should take fiber supplements for my IBS. Are they helpful?

A: Many experts recommend fiber supplements, but they are not always the best medicine. I say this because many of my clients have complained they’ve become more bloated and gassy after taking them. And this goes for both types — soluble and insoluble fiber supplements. People with IBS are very sensitive to fiber, so adding a concentrated dose of fiber isn’t always beneficial, especially if you go overboard on the amount. Personally, I tend to treat IBS by focusing on foods.

I start by asking my clients about their symptoms. If it’s predominantly diarrhea, I’ll have them take a rest from most fiber-rich foods. Then, ever so slowly, we start adding them back — focusing first on the soluble type, which can be easily dissolved in your gut, as opposed to insoluble. If a client complains of persistent constipation, I immediately incorporate foods rich in soluble fiber (along with some insoluble fiber) evenly sprinkled throughout the day. When my clients feel well enough, we add more. Since I’ve had much more success with food than supplements, I suggest you skip the pills and instead add fiber-rich foods (slowly!) along with lots of flat water (not carbonated, which will add gas) to your diet.

I prefer dietary modifications as the first line of defense, but if you still can’t find relief, you can certainly experiment with fiber supplements. Just be cautious — start with a small amount of a soluble fiber supplement (such as psyllium, wheat dextrin, methylcellulose, or inulin) and see how you react. If the product appears to be beneficial, you can slowly work your way up to the recommended daily dose. And if one type of supplement doesn’t work for you, consider trying another; individuals can respond differently to different forms of fiber. Make sure to follow directions and take your supplements with plenty of water to minimize bloating and constipation. This is definitely a trial-and-error process!

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