Top food sources
Want to get more natural fiber in your diet? Here are some of the best sources.
Soluble (best for people with IBS)
Apples, Avocados, Carrots, Chia seed, Flaxseed, Oats, Papaya, Psyllium, Pumpkin, Squash, Yams
Barley, Beans, Brown rice, Celery, Corn bran, Root vegetables, Strawberries, Sunflower seeds, Wheat bran, Whole wheat, Zucchini
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—or a similar condition such as Crohn's disease, colitis, or diverticulitis—you've no doubt been told to add more fiber to your diet. In fact, if you look at the shelves in your local health food store, you'll likely see many "healthy" breakfast cereals touting the amount of bran or other fiber they contain.
The idea that bran was good for the bowel came about when Dr. Denis Burkitt discovered that rural Africans rarely suffered from colon cancer. He attributed this to the fact that their diet was high in fiber.
Commercial interests were quick to see the profit potential and jumped on the high-fiber bandwagon. But a crucial qualification was lost in all the marketing: The people in Burkitt’s study got their fiber from vegetables—not bran.
Since then, we’ve discovered that there’s a marked difference in how the different types of fiber—soluble and insoluble—affect the bowel. Soluble fiber forms a gel when it mixes with liquid; insoluble fiber doesn’t. For people with intestinal disorders, soluble fiber usually has a beneficial effect, while insoluble fiber can irritate the intestines and intensify symptoms.
But even more important than fiber, if you want to create a foundational shift in the way your gut digests and absorbs food, you have to look at gut flora. And that means probiotics.
Not sure how to distinguish between the name of a probiotic species and the name of the strain? Here's a quick primer:
Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 (often written L. acidophilus DDS-1)
Soluble Fiber Supplement: MetaCleanse by Solana Systems (flaxseed, psyllium, and bentonite clay)
Probiotics: Natren (powders or capsules)
Probiotic therapy helps people with IBS in a variety of ways. If you get too many “bad” bacteria in your gut and not enough “good” bacteria, the bad bacteria—and other pathogenic microorganisms such as yeast, fungi, and parasites—can degrade the mucosal lining of your intestine and even penetrate the intestinal wall. This leads to an increase of mucus, inflammation, ulceration, and bleeding. It can also allow undigested food particles to pass directly into your bloodstream, where they are perceived as allergens and trigger an immune response (known as leaky gut syndrome).
Over time, using probiotic supplementation to help repopulate the good bacteria in your gut will result in a drastic reduction—if not elimination—of many harmful pathogens. The good bacteria will also form a protective coating of your mucosal cell lining and produce B vitamins and digestive enzymes. Proper digestion and absorption of nutrients can gradually be restored, while symptoms such as heartburn, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, mucus, intestinal spasms or cramping, and inflammation can be quickly eliminated. In fact, in one clinical trial, IBS patients treated with L. acidophilus showed a 50 percent improvement in only 8 weeks.
Another large-scale trial of 362 female IBS patients showed great results for a certain species of probiotic known as B. infantis. The women in the study reported “significantly superior” improvement in all symptoms— bowel dysfunction, abdominal pain, bloating, incomplete evacuation, straining, and the passage of gas—and an overall improvement rate that was more than 20 percent higher than placebo.
In this study, researchers also experimented with dosage. At 6 billion CFU (colony forming units), there was no symptom improvement. At 7 billion CFU, symptoms improved somewhat. A dosage of 8 billion CFU produced the best results. Numerous other trials have also shown that high doses of probiotics are required to be effective—typically between 7—10 billion CFU per day.
Just Your Type
It is also important to ingest the right strain of each species of bacteria, because different strains can produce different results. Out of 200 different strains of acidophilus, for example, only 13 are known to have potent antibiotic and antiviral properties. If you have IBS, you need probiotics that can wipe out bad bacteria, restore digestive health, help balance immunity, and prevent re-infection.
You only want to purchase a probiotic supplement that contains species and strains with proven, long-term records of human safety.
* Editors' note: To learn more about author Jini Patel Thompson, visit ListenToYourGut.com.