While many people know that fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet, the average American consumes just 15 grams a day, according to the Harvard School of Public Health -- far less than the recommended 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, both of which are important for health and are found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Soluble fiber may help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and insoluble fiber can help prevent constipation. Because dietary sources of fiber are also high in vitamins and minerals, it's best to consume fiber from real food. However, if getting enough fiber through diet isn't an option, fiber supplements can help. Ask your doctor first.
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When comparing safety, effectiveness and price, a 2012 analysis by Consumer Reports rated fiber supplements that contain psyllium as best. Psyllium is a soluble fiber that comes from Plantago ovata, a shrublike herb that grows commonly in India. Consumer Reports noted that psyllium has been studied the most in treating constipation and that studies suggest it increases the weekly frequency of bowel movements by at least one to two per week, when compared to a placebo. The most well-known brand that contains psyllium is Metamucil, which also received the highest percentage of pharmacists' votes for fiber supplements in 2014 on the U.S. News and World Reports website.
Methylcellulose for Constipation
Methylcellulose is another fiber supplement rated by Consumer Reports as one of the best for constipation. Methylcellulose adds bulk to the stool, softening it and and making it easier to pass. It is also approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a laxative. Methylcellulose is not fermentable in the intestines, which means it won't cause excess gas or bloating. According to the National Fiber Council, there is some, although minimal, data showing that methylcellulose may help lower blood cholesterol, too. A common fiber supplement brand name that uses methylcellulose as the active ingredient is Citrucel.
Wheat dextrin is taken from cooked and cooled wheat flour and is a 100 percent soluble fiber. Wheat dextrin is the active ingredient in the common fiber supplement Benefiber, which was ranked No. 2 on the 2014 list of pharmacists' picks for fiber supplements, according to U.S. News and World Report. The National Fiber Council reports evidence that shows wheat dextrin may also help lower blood sugar.
Polycarbophil is another fiber supplement used to treat constipation because of its bulk-forming capabilities. It is considered a laxative, but it can also be used to treat diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome. Common brand names of polycarbophil include Fiberlax, Fibernorm, Konsyl Fiber and Fiber Con. Fiber Con was ranked by pharmacists as the fourth-best fiber supplement in 2014 on the U.S. News and World Report website. Some minor side effects of polycarbophil may include bloating or gas.
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fiber
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Fiber
- Consumer Reports: Best Buy Drugs
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Psyllium
- U.S. News and World Report: Fiber Supplements
- Consumer Reports: Medicine Cabinets Dos and Don'ts
- Drugs.com: Methylcellulose
- National Fiber Council: Comparison of Fiber Supplements
- National Fiber Council: Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber
- Drugs.com: Fibernorm