Dietary Fiber Improves Bowel Incontinence in Adults
Taking fiber supplements containing psyllium husk or gum arabic may help improve bowel incontinence in older adults, according to a study in Nursing Research (2001;50:203–13).
Studies show that more than 1% of adults suffer from some bowel incontinence, which is defined as an involuntary leakage of stool contents. The risk of developing this problem increases with age, sedentary lifestyle, decreased mental capacity, or the presence of certain co-existing medical conditions. The use of fiber as a treatment for incontinence is an effective, safe approach that is virtually free of adverse effects and is also inexpensive, which may be an important factor for senior citizens living on a fixed budget.
In this study, 42 adults with at least weekly bouts of incontinent stools received 7 grams per day of psyllium, 25 grams per day of gum arabic, or a placebo for one month. The fiber supplements or placebo were mixed into fruit juice and taken with morning and evening meals. Participants were given a daily questionnaire to monitor their bowel patterns.
Those taking psyllium or gum arabic had a significantly lower proportion of incontinent stools, compared with those taking a placebo (17% and 18%, respectively, compared with 50%). No difference in frequency of bowel movements was observed between the three groups. Both the psyllium and gum arabic treatments were well tolerated.
Dietary fiber is a food component that does not break down in the stomach or intestines and therefore does not get absorbed into the body. In addition to improving fecal incontinence, fiber has other positive effects on gastrointestinal health. Studies have shown that taking 7 to 10 grams per day of psyllium may help relieve constipation. Other studies have suggested psyllium can help reduce blood sugar in diabetics. Consuming adequate amounts of fiber may also help prevent the development of peptic ulcers and diverticular disease of the colon. Psyllium may also help lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (“bad”) cholesterol levels.
Individuals with diabetes or chronic constipation should consult a physician before taking fiber supplements to determine whether it is an appropriate treatment and what amounts to take. It is important to drink plenty of water when taking a fiber supplement, in order to prevent the fiber from binding up in the intestines.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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