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To treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), most doctors recommend that patients consume dietary fibre to help keep the bowels active. A new controlled trial suggests that the type of fibre consumed is important. Soluble fibre, such as psyllium, reduces symptoms and pain of the disorder, but insoluble fibre such as wheat bran can increase problems. Researchers reported in the British Medical Journal.

Irritable bowel syndrome, which is characterized by irregular bowel movements, cramps, bloating and other problems, affects as much as 10 per cent of the population and can be severely disabling. Few good treatments are available, in part because doctors seem unsure about its root cause.

In the first study of its kind, the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands studied 275 patients, ages 18 to 65, with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A third were given 10grams of psyllium fibre every day for 12 weeks, a third were given 10grams of wheat bran and a third were given 10grams of rice flour as a placebo.

Patients taking the psyllium fibre received significantly more relief than those taking placebo and some reported that they had pain-free periods as long as two weeks while taking the fibre. Those taking wheat bran, however, showed no significant improvement and many of them dropped out of the trial because their symptoms worsened.

Los Angeles Times/Edmonton Journal, August 29, 2009

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