Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bran and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Is bran a good idea when you're constipated and you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

The quick answer is, usually not, but it may have more to do with the kind of bran you eat and when you eat it.

Finer bran irritates the stomach and bowel less than coarser bran. Oat bran is less likely to irritate the bowel than wheat bran. And whatever kind of bran you eat, you need about 25 grams of fiber from the bran (a small bowl of oatbran, which is about half fiber) to help you.

If you use bran for constipation in irritable bowel syndrome, when should you eat it?

Again, the short answer is, you should not eat it for breakfast.

If you eat bran cereal for a light supper at the end of the day, it has all night to "scrub" your colon, helping protect against cancer, but it doesn't have to compete with all the other foods you ate for breakfast and lunch in the manufacture of gas. "Dinner bran" is much less likely to irritate the bowel than "breakfast bran."

What if you just don't care for bran? The only other fiber source that's been clinically tested is psyllium. It's available in packets you stir into water and also in capsule form. And whatever kind of fiber you eat, don't use laxatives immediately after eating fiber. The result can be a "colon cleansing" that can be most uncomfortable.

Although most people with IBS have to eat fruits and vegetables in moderation, better results may accrue to increasing servings of plant foods rather than tackling constipation head-on by eating bran. And if bran is your first choice, consume it only in moderation, too.

Reader questions:

Q. What is psyllium fiber?

A. Psyllium fiber is ground from psyllium seed. The advantage to the manufacturer is that the fiber is easier to standardize. For consumers, you don't have to eat the food with all the caloric ingredients if you simply take a psyllium capsule or wafer.

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Read about artichoke leaf for IBS symptoms.


Johanssen JF. Review of the treatment options for chronic constipation. MedGenMed 2007 May 2; 9(2), 25.

Lewis MJ, Whorwell PJ. Bran: May irritate bowel. Nutrition 1998 May; 14(5), 470-1.

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