Evidence-Based Approach to Fiber Supplements and Clinically Meaningful Health Benefits, Part 1: What to Look for and How to Recommend an Effective Fiber Therapy


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Abstract

Dietary fiber that is intrinsic and intact in fiber-rich foods (eg, fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains) is widely recognized to have beneficial effects on health when consumed at recommended levels (25 g/d for adult women, 38 g/d for adult men). Most (90%) of the US population does not consume this level of dietary fiber, averaging only 15 g/d. In an attempt to bridge this “fiber gap,” many consumers are turning to fiber supplements, which are typically isolated from a single source. Fiber supplements cannot be presumed to provide the health benefits that are associated with dietary fiber from whole foods. Of the fiber supplements on the market today, only a minority possess the physical characteristics that underlie the mechanisms driving clinically meaningful health benefits. The first part (current issue) of this 2-part series will focus on the 4 main characteristics of fiber supplements that drive clinical efficacy (solubility, degree/rate of fermentation, viscosity, and gel formation), the 4 clinically meaningful designations that identify which health benefits are associated with specific fibers, and the gel-dependent mechanisms in the small bowel that drive specific health benefits (eg, cholesterol lowering, improved glycemic control). The second part (next issue) of this 2-part series will focus on the effects of fiber supplements in the large bowel, including the 2 mechanisms by which fiber prevents/relieves constipation (insoluble mechanical irritant and soluble gel-dependent water-holding capacity), the gel-dependent mechanism for attenuating diarrhea and normalizing stool form in irritable bowel syndrome, and the combined large bowel/small bowel fiber effects for weight loss/maintenance. The second part will also discuss how processing for marketed products can attenuate efficacy, why fiber supplements can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, and how to avoid symptoms for better long-term compliance.

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