Eat more fiber: You’ve probably heard that bit of dietary advice at least once. But why is fiber so important? And how can it help you manage common bowel problems, like constipation and painful hemorrhoids?
Bowel problems like hemorrhoids and constipation are pretty common: About 16 out of every 100 Americans suffer from constipation, while roughly 1 in 20 deals with the pain and itching of hemorrhoids. While there are medical treatments that can help with both conditions, they can be messy, costly, and a little inconvenient.
But what if you could do something on your own — something really simple — to help with both of those issues and others, too? You can: Eat more fiber.
Most of us know fiber has a reputation of helping with bowel health, but few of us know how fiber “works” in our digestive tracts. At our practice in Deerfield Beach, Florida, Michael Tarlowe, MD, helps patients understand the important link between diet and bowel health, including why it’s so important to manage your fiber intake.
Quick facts about fiber
When most of us hear the word “fiber,” we think of something rough and scratchy, like the fibers found in fabric or wood. But dietary fiber is much different.
Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that comes from plant sources. Unlike other carbs like sugars and starches, fiber can’t be digested and used for energy like other parts of food. As a result, fiber passes through your digestive tract and into your colon, where it feeds essential bacteria and helps your bowel health in other ways.
Soluble vs. insoluble fiber
There are two primary kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber can be dissolved in water. This type of fiber is found in oatmeal, beans, lentils, and some fruits, like apples. Soluble fiber helps you maintain a healthy blood sugar level, and it can help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range, too.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. While soluble fiber can benefit your gut health, insoluble fiber is what most people mean when they recommend you eat more fiber to improve your bowel function. Insoluble fiber sources include brown rice, quinoa, some leafy greens, whole grains, seeds, and edible fruit skins.
Fiber doesn’t just help your bowels. It supports good health in other ways, too, offering benefits for people with chronic conditions, like heart disease and diabetes. But one of its key impacts is improving how your gut functions.
How fiber helps your digestive health
Fiber offers lots of benefits for gut health. Certain types of fiber called prebiotics feed the friendly gut bacteria to help them thrive..
Some fiber is fermented by the friendly bacteria in your bowel, creating short-chain fatty acids that nourish the cells lining your colon. That fermentation also creates acids that keep harmful bacteria at bay.
For relief of both constipation and hemorrhoids, fiber provides roughage necessary to help your bowels move regularly, so you don’t get “backed up.” It also bulks up stool so it can absorb more moisture. That keeps your stool softer and more comfortable to pass — and it also prevents straining that often triggers painful hemorrhoids.
What about fiber supplements?
Fiber supplements might seem like a simple solution for increasing your daily fiber intake. But while supplements may help for a brief time, if you take them on a regular basis, they may actually harm your gut biome, making some gut problems more likely. Whenever possible, aim to add natural sources of fiber into your regular diet, reserving supplements for occasional use.
One more tip: If you’re not used to fiber in your diet, adding it too quickly can cause uncomfortable bloating, gas, and loose stools. Aim to increase your fiber intake slowly, so you get the benefits without the unwanted side effects.
More ways to keep your bowels healthy
Paying attention to your fiber intake is just one way to optimize your bowel and gut health. Dr. Tarlowe can help you identify other lifestyle changes, along with state-of-the-art therapies, to treat a host of bowel disorders, relieving unpleasant symptoms and even helping prevent more serious problems in the future.
To learn what else you can do to support good gut health — or to find out what’s causing gut symptoms — call 954-256-1842 or book an appointment online with Dr. Tarlowe today.