Fiber supplements and clinically proven health benefits: How to recognize and recommend an effective fiber therapy

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There are numerous fiber products on the market today. Some contain a natural fiber, such as inulin (i.e., chicory root), psyllium (i.e., husk of blond psyllium seed), or β‐glucan (i.e., oat or barley; McRorie & Fahey, 2015). Others contain an artificially created product, such as polydextrose (synthetic polymer of glucose and sorbitol), wheat dextrin (heat/acid treated wheat starch), or methylcellulose (semisynthetic, chemically treated wood pulp; McRorie & Fahey, 2015). The Institute of Medicine distinguishes dietary fiber (the nondigestible carbohydrates and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants) from functional fiber (the isolated, nondigestible carbohydrates that have been shown to have beneficial physiological effects in humans; Institute of Medicine, 2002). To be considered a functional fiber, the isolated nondigestible carbohydrate found in a fiber supplement must have clinical evidence of a beneficial physiologic effect. While the term “fiber supplement” implies that the product can help make up for a shortfall in dietary fiber consumption from whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, it is important for nurse practitioners to understand which supplements actually have clinical evidence of a beneficial physiologic effect and qualify as functional fibers.
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