Are you getting enough fiber in your diet? If you’re like most Americans, probably not. Adults and adolescents should consume 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day, but the average American only consumes about half that amount (Source: Medline Plus). Why? Well, it’s most likely our on-the-go lifestyle that causes us to gravitate toward convenience foods such as chips, crackers or fast-food burgers.
A high-fiber diet has numerous health benefits including weight loss, reduced blood pressure, lower cholesterol and glucose levels, and a reduced incidence of heart disease. If your diet is lacking in the fiber department, you may be tempted to use fiber supplements as an easy way to hit your daily values. And while it’s true that it might be easier to pop a few fiber capsules instead of filling your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables, supplements can have some negative effects as well. If you’re considering fiber supplements, take some time to weigh the pros and cons:
- Improved regularity – Fiber supplements act as bulking agents to help pass stool through the digestive tract, which can prevent the occurrence of constipation or diarrhea.
- Symptom relief – Long-term use of fiber supplements can help alleviate symptoms of some gastrointestinal issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
- Reduced risk of colon cancer – Fiber helps to quickly pass stool and carcinogens through the digestive tract, keeping the colon healthy and reducing the amount of time that it is exposed to harmful substances.
- Possibly habit forming – Bulk-forming laxatives can lead to dependency and permanent damage of the digestive tract if they are used too long or too frequently. Some users claim that the digestive tract becomes reliant on the extra source of fiber, though this claim is still being researched.
- Drug interference – Your body may have difficulty absorbing certain medications if they are taken along with fiber supplements. Be sure to ask your doctor whether fiber supplements will interfere with your other prescriptions.
- Dehydration – Fiber supplements require water in order to work properly. When that water isn’t present, you are at risk for dehydration and constipation. Each fiber dose should be taken with an additional 4 to 8 ounces of water (Source: LIVESTRONG).
In order to rule out any potential problems, talk to your doctor before beginning a fiber supplement regimen. It may be necessary to space out your supplement and other medications to ensure proper absorption. Your doctor may also be able to recommend ways to add natural sources of fiber to your diet, which can reduce your need for supplements.