Has your gut been feeling “off” lately? Are you struggling with IBS or diverticulitis? Do you want to put an end to pesky acne breakouts? Surprisingly enough, fiber supplements may be the answer. The FDA-recommended nutrient helps with a ton of issues related to the digestive system, which includes some unexpected functions such as immunity, heart function, and even the appearance of your skin.
In some cases, however, fiber may exacerbate certain conditions. Here’s how to find out if fiber supplements may be right for you, and how to take them. Just a heads up: As you should with any supplements, run it by your doctor before taking fiber daily.
What is fiber?
Let’s start with a primer on what fiber actually is. Fiber is a component of plant-based food that you can’t digest. It actually aids digestion, and the way it does so depends on a couple things. One is whether it’s prebiotic or probiotic:
- Probiotic fiber contains live bacteria that populates the gut microbiome.
- Prebiotic fiber acts like food for the bacteria in your gut microbiome.
Another determining factor for how fiber works in the gut is how it reacts to water:
- Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and turns into a gel-like substance when it does so. This then travels through the digestive tract, picking up junk along the way.
- Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water, but absorbs it. It promotes intestinal activity, helping you poop.
Only 5 percent of Americans get the FDA-recommended 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 for men.
Dietary fiber also promotes the production and excretion of bile, which helps you digest saturated fats like those from red meat and fried food. Other benefits of dietary fiber include helping you feel less hungry and regulating your blood sugar levels.
Due to the many advantages of getting enough fiber in your diet, doctors and experts recommend it to help lower the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. It’s also associated with preventing constipation, hemorrhoids, and, according to some studies, colon cancer.
You can get fiber from various plant-based foods, but getting enough is tough. Only 5 percent of Americans get the FDA-recommended 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 for men. That’s where fiber supplements can save the day, boosting your daily intake of fiber.
When do I need fiber supplements?
Fiber supplements may be able to help you if:
If you’re constipated, meaning you poop no more than three times a week and you have to push when you do, fiber supplements may be able to help relieve your symptoms by promoting bowel movements.
You have diarrhea.
Fiber supplements may be able to address diarrhea, which is classified as loose, watery poop that happens frequently. Fiber can bulk up stool to help you produce more effective poops, while keeping you hydrated.
You’re looking to improve your heart health.
Fiber has been linked to lowered levels of LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), as well as other benefits for the heart, such as reduced blood pressure and inflammation.
You’re struggling with gas and bloating.
Fiber can help with gas and bloating, especially since constipation is a major contributor to these and fiber gets things moving in your gut.
You have ulcerative colitis.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory disease that affects the large intestine, can be relieved by dietary fiber. Getting adequate amounts of this nutrient in your diet daily can benefit your good gut bacteria, which contribute to combating inflammation. If you have ulcerative colitis, just be sure to confirm with your doctor that a fiber supplement will work for you.
You’re looking to improve the appearance of your hair, skin, and nails.
By improving the way you absorb nutrients from your food—including those that benefit your hair, skin, and nails—fiber can help strengthen your hair and nails, and keep your skin clear and glowing.
During digestion, fiber can slow down the process of absorbing sugar from your food, reducing blood sugar. This can be beneficial for diabetes patients, provided they confirm with their doctors that fiber is right for them.
You want to prevent diverticulitis.
Studies have shown that diverticulitis, the infection of tiny pouches in the intestine called diverticula, is less common in people who get enough fiber in their diets, whether through food or supplements. It’s important to note that taking fiber supplements while experiencing symptoms of diverticulitis can exacerbate the problem, so check with your doctor first.
You have IBS.
Dietary fiber and fiber supplements have been linked to improved symptoms in those with IBS-C, IBS-D, and IBS-M, but there’s a specific kind of fiber that has this effect: soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber may worsen symptoms. If you’re taking fiber for IBS, make sure your supplement contains soluble fiber and confirm with your doctor that it’s right for you to be on the safe side.
You want to improve your immunity.
The gut microbiome serves as a major component of our immune system, so our immunity can be benefited by things that help our gut bacteria. Since fiber keeps our gut microbiome healthy, it may support immune function as well.
How do I take fiber supplements?
Fiber supplements are typically safe to take daily. Your body will need time to adjust to more fiber, so gradually increase your intake, along with how much water you drink.
If you’re currently taking medication, be sure to take the supplements either two hours before or two hours after — the supplements may affect how your body absorbs the meds.
These supplements tend to be available in pill or powder form. Bellway is an example of a powdered supplement that can be taken one to three times a day, depending on your fiber needs, and has the added benefit of containing no artificial ingredients. As with all supplements, check with your doctor before taking it daily.