Irritable bowel syndrome, while not life-threatening, can drastically affect your quality of life. If you have IBS, you can make changes in your daily habits and your diet to reduce the symptoms, which include gas, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea. Carefully increasng your dietary fiber intake can help relieve some of the symptoms of IBS and make flare-ups less common.
Dietary fiber is present in a large number of foods, particularly plants. While some dietary fiber is metabolized in your colon, your body does not digest most of it. Dietary fiber helps create bulk, making it easier to pass waste through your system. The recommended intake of dietary fiber is between 25 and 38 grams per day, but the majority of Americans do not eat enough of it.
Insoluble vs. Soluble Fiber
There are two different types of dietary fiber, insoluble and soluble. Soluble fiber turns to a gel as it is digested, attracting water. This helps slow down digestion and can help stools pass more easily through your system, making them softer and bulkier. Insoluble fiber provides the outer structure to plants and helps food pass more quickly through your system. In general, any increase in dietary fiber can help treat symptoms of IBS, although excess consumption, or a sudden increase in consumption, can lead to gas or bloating.
Diarrhea and Constipation in IBS
Soluble fiber, such as psyllium husk, is the ideal fiber for most IBS symptoms as it is readily available and can blend with foods as well as be taken on its own. If you experience diarrhea-prone IBS with pain in your upper abdomen, psyllium husk on its own will help alleviate the symptoms best, as it absorbs the excess liquid. The soft, bulk-forming ability of soluble fiber also serves well for cases of constipation, difficult bowel movements or incomplete emptying of the bowel, as the softening ability of psyllium makes the stools easier to pass. In cases of diarrhea- and constipation-prone IBS, other soluble fibers you can take along with psyllium are oligofructose, a fiber that encourages healthy bacteria growth; oat bran; and methylcellulose.
Insoluble Fiber in IBS
Insoluble fiber is also used to treat IBS symptoms, although it is less common than soluble fiber. For example, cellulose, an insoluble fiber, is used in tandem with soluble fiber in cases of constipation-prone IBS as the fiber helps waste move quickly along through the colon. It is also used to treat excess gas in IBS patients, as soluble fiber is not recommended for those experiencing severe gas due to IBS. However, in all cases, to ensure a proper diagnosis, seek in-person treatment from a doctor. Gradually increasing your dietary fiber consumption in general will also provide some overall relief of your IBS symptoms.
Include Fiber in Your Diet
Including fiber in your diet means increasing your consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, all of which are good sources of dietary fiber. You can also take fiber supplements, such as psyllium, which as a natural bulking agent can be used to thicken smoothies or juices. To avoid constipation or gas from a sudden increase in dietary fiber, build up your dietary fiber consumption gradually and be sure you consume enough water. Gently cooking vegetables or fruit before eating them can also make the dietary fiber more digestible as it softens the fiber.
- MedlinePlus: Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber
- Colorado State Univesity Extension: Dietary Fiber
- WomensHealth.gov: Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: IBS Diet -- Dietary Fiber
- University of Kentucky: Vegetable Preparation for the Family
- Nutritional Medicine; Alan Gaby