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It's soluble fiber, not wheat bran, for irritable bowel, study says

August 28, 2009 | 10:07 am

To treat irritable bowel syndrome, most physicians recommend that patients consume dietary fiber to help keep the bowels active. But a new controlled trial suggests that the type of fiber consumed is important. Soluble fiber, such as psyllium, reduces symptoms and pain of the disorder, but insoluble fiber such as wheat bran can increase problems, Dutch researchers reported online today in BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal.

Getprev Irritable bowel syndrome, which is characterized by irregular bowel movements, cramps, bloating and other problems, affects as much as 10% of the population and can be severely disabling. Few good treatments are available, in part because physicians seem unsure about its root causes.

In the first study of its kind, Dr. Rene Bijkerk of the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands and colleagues studied 275 patients, ages 18 to 65, with irritable bowel syndrome, commonly known as IBS. A third were given 10 grams of psyllium fiber every day for 12 weeks, a third were given 10 grams of wheat bran, and a third were given 10 grams of rice flour as a placebo.

Patients taking the psyllium fiber received significantly more relief than those taking placebo, and some reported that they had pain-free periods as long as two weeks while taking the fiber. Those taking wheat bran, however, showed no significant improvement, and many of them dropped out of the trial because their symptoms worsened.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Image credit: Visuals Unlimited/Corbis