A recent study described research on the role of fiber in the treatment of Functional Constipation (FC) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in children. FC and IBS are two of the most common reasons children see pediatricians for constipation and other GI-related concerns. Both of these conditions are considered functional GI disorders.
Studying the relationship between fiber and pediatric GI disorders is important because increased fiber intake is the most commonly prescribed ‘fix’ for constipated children. There are OTC medications and recommended dosages for pediatric fiber supplements, but the prevalence of pediatric GI disorders and visits to the pediatrician for constipation and other conditions warrants more research.
What kind of fiber and how much should children take when they are having trouble with GI disorders?
What is a Functional GI Disorder?
Medical researchers at UNC School of Medicine succinctly describe functional GI disorders as “common disorders that are characterized by persistent and recurring GI symptoms.” This can include many conditions, the most common of which are:
- Functional constipation
- Functional diarrhea
- Functional nausea and/or vomiting
Functional instances of GI disorders are common reasons for children being unable to attend school due to ‘feeling sick.’
How Fiber Helps GI Disorders
Fiber is regularly recommended to help treat functional GI disorders. Fibers are categorized as soluble or insoluble; soluble fibers are fermented in the colon whereas insoluble fibers are subject to limited fermentation.
Soluble fiber absorbs water, forming a gel after digestion. The added water is thought to make the stool softer and easier to pass. While most foods have both soluble and insoluble fiber, the relative amounts provided differ. Common foods that are high in soluble fiber include:
Insoluble fibers have a bulking action and can only be fermented in the colon producing gas and worsening the IBS symptoms. Insoluble fibers do not get broken down completely in the body and help food pass more quickly through the intestines. Foods high in insoluble fiber include:
- Wheat bran
- Whole grains
- Some vegetables
The outcomes of fiber treatments for FC and IBS are fairly positive. 25% of children with FC or IBS continue to experience symptoms through adulthood. Approximately 40% of children that have medical consultations for FC continue to require treatment for at least five years.
Specific Fiber Treatments
The recent study on fiber and functional GI disorders focused on looking at a combination of several sources of fiber:
- Corn fiber
- Partially Hydrolyzed Guar gum
- Inulin (not insulin)
- Cocoa husk
- Psyllium fiber
Past research has speculated that a combination of different fiber types, including short and long-chain fibers may be a more effective approach for controlling constipation, due action on different parts of the colon; this is why 7 different sources of fiber were used in the recent research.
Research results noted the frequency of bowel movements was significantly increased in participants in the fiber group, as well as improvements in stool consistency. Side benefits included children with access to high-fiber snacks having more daily fiber intake than those who did not consume snacks with the added fiber.
While the results of the study were positive, researchers note that successful outcomes most likely rely on strict adherence to regular fiber consumption. Long-term studies are currently underway to observe the effects of standardized fiber consumption.
Research at Biofortis
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