A diet high in fiber can contribute to your health and overall sense of well-being. Soluble fiber products such as psyllium and methylcellulose not only help keep you regular, they lower your cholesterol, ease the after-meal rise in blood sugar diabetics experience, decrease the risk of colorectal and breast cancer, treat irritable bowel syndrome and help you lose weight. Though they are similar in function, there are instances where one type of fiber may be more appropriate than another type. Ask your physician to help you choose the dietary fiber product best suited for your medical condition.
Both psyllium fiber and methylcellulose are derived from natural sources. Psyllium fiber is produced from the husks of the Plantago ovata or "blond psyllium" plant. When the husks or seeds are added to water, they absorb and trap the water and a gelatinous substance forms around them. Psyllium husks used in commercial products are dried and chopped or powdered.
Methylcellulose is made by chemically treating natural plant cellulose. The methylcellulose molecule is not naturally found in any plant or animal tissue. Methylcellulose is a polymer: a chain of identical molecules linked together. When methylcellulose is added to water, chains join other chains and form a gel matrix that absorbs and holds the water.
It is easier to take a fiber supplement every day if it tastes good. A popular brand of methylcellulose powder is orange-flavored. Methylcellulose dissolves freely in water or juice. Methylcellulose is also sold in pill form.
Psyllium fiber does not actually dissolve in water, but forms a gel. You can also mix psyllium powder with your favorite juice to improve its taste. Psyllium is available as capsules, coarse-milled with fibrous psyllium husk parts included, wafers, flavored and unflavored powders. Each dose of psyllium or methylcellulose should be followed with 8 oz. of water to prevent the fiber from congealing in the esophagus and causing choking.
Psyllium and methylcellulose are used to treat constipation. Both absorb water and increase in bulk as they pass through the bowel. The resulting increase in total fecal matter stimulates the muscles of the bowel and shove the waste out faster. Both psyllium and methylcellulose soften the feces, increase the size and weight of feces and increase the frequency of defecation.
Abdominal Side Effects
Psyllium fiber is partially digested or fermented by bacteria in your bowel. This may form gas and cause bloating, abdominal cramping and increased flatulence. As a cellulose fiber derivative, methylcellulose is not fermented in the human large intestine. This should make methylcellulose an alternative source of fiber if you cannot tolerate psyllium. Researchers of a 1996 study published in the "Annals of Internal Medicine," however, found that the psyllium caused no more gas and abdominal distress than methylcellulose.
- Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Fiber
- "Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine"; Update on constipation: One treatment does not fit all; Amy Foxx-Orenstein; November 2008
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Psyllium
- "Annals of Internal Medicine"; The Relation of Passage of Gas and Abdominal Bloating to Colonic Gas Production; Michael D. Levitt, et al.; February 1996