When discussing methods to ease constipation, increasing one's fibre intake is usually tip number one (check out these Health24 articles). While a lack of dietary fibre can certainly be linked to constipation, the opposite may also be true.
An excess of fibre in one's diet can lead to bloating, gas and constipation, which happens when a person exceeds an intake of 70mg of fibre daily. This amount can easily be exceeded, especially when following a plant-based diet.
The role of fibre
Fibre is the indigestible part of a plant, which is essential to keep the digestive system functioning as it should. However, ingesting too much fibre can cause unpleasant side-effects.
Breakfast consisting of oatmeal, almonds, raisins and chia seeds; two slices of wholegrain bread with a vegetable filling for lunch; a high-fibre snack; and dinner consisting of quinoa, brown rice and leafy green vegetables such as kale can easily push you over the daily recommended fibre threshold.
There are two different types of fibre:
Insoluble fibre adds bulk to your stool and makes it easier for food to pass more rapidly through your stomach and intestines. It also balances the pH level of your intestines, which helps to prevent inflammation.
Soluble fibre, on the other hand, absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance with digested food. This slows down digestion and helps you feel fuller faster. This is why high fibre foods are often recommended to help manage your weight. This type of fibre helps lower your risk of heart disease; it keeps blood sugar levels on an even keel and reduces LDL cholesterol.
It’s in the science
A 2012 study, published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, explored the effects on patients with idiopathic constipation when the amount of daily fibre was reduced. Although it was a small cohort study, it found that a reduction in dietary fibre can indeed be associated with decreased bloating and abdominal discomfort, and that fibre made constipation worse.
The study also found sufficient evidence that low fibre does not always cause constipation. The conclusion was that – contrary to the widely accepted view that dietary fibre is vital for optimum gut health and healthy, regular bowel movements – most of the patients in the study didn't benefit from high amounts of fibre.
Are you eating too much fibre?
Besides constipation, there are other signs that you may be consuming too much fibre:
- Bloating or abdominal cramps
- Feeling full very quickly
- A lack of iron, zinc and magnesium, as too much fibre can bind to minerals and limit their absorption. (Symptoms include fatigue and muscle cramps.)
Combat the effects of too much fibre
Do you suspect you might be consuming too much fibre? Reverse unpleasant symptoms like constipation and gas by doing the following:
- Drink more water. As fibre bulks up the stool, it's important to keep a good water-fibre balance in the digestive tract.
- Try different sources of fibre. If you're ingesting too much soluble fibre such as oatmeal, bran, legumes, nuts and some vegetables, switch to insoluble fibre sources such as wholegrain flour, fruit or potatoes.
- Slowly reintroduce fibre into your diet.
- Eat cooked instead of raw vegetables.
- Use lower-fibre options if your meals largely consist of high fibre foods.
- Eat smaller portions of fibre-rich foods.
- Cut out high-fibre snacks such as cereal bars.
Disclaimer: This article is based on a small, yet interesting study. Fibre is vital for the optimum functioning of your digestive system and should remain an important part of your diet. If you are unsure what is causing your constipation and home remedies don't work, consult your doctor.
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