A new study brings hope for some relief for children suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS: Psyllium fiber! Psyllium fiber comes from the husk, or outer coating, of the psyllium plant’s seed. It is gluten free and is a similar fiber to the fiber found in oats and barley, but the soluble fiber found in psyllium is almost five times higher that the fiber found in oat bran. Just 100 grams of psyllium provides 50 grams of soluble fiber, according to Konsyl Pharmaceuticals.
Psyllium fiber is a bulk forming laxative that is often used to treat constipation and has been mentioned by Autism Speaks as possibly helpful for ASD-related constipation, though that same article says that there is little evidence that this fiber can help with long-term constipation. Psyllium fiber absorbs liquid in the intestines and helps stools pass more readily. Now, this wheat-free fiber has been found to help decrease the frequency of pain episodes among children suffering from IBS. The new research comes from researchers at the USDA, ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine, and Texas Children’s Hospital. The paper appears in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
“This appears to be a potentially beneficial treatment for some kids with IBS, but more research is needed to understand how it works, to see if there are ways that we can make it more effective, and to identify which kids might be the most responsive to that treatment,” Dr. Robert Shulman, professor of pediatrics at Baylor and the CNRC, explained.
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The study was a randomized, double-blind clinical trial of children between the ages of seven-years old and 18-years-old who had been diagnosed with IBS. During the two-week baseline period, researchers were able to gather data on pain episodes and document stool patters. Parents and guardians of children with IBS often report that the children suffer from episodes of constipation or diarrhea. During the initial two-weeks, the researchers also collected information about the children’s gut barrier function, and how capable their guts were of keeping out allergens and bacteria. Some of the children had the bacterial composition of their guts analyzed as well. The researchers also looked at breath hydrogen levels, because earlier studies have indicated that hydrogen gas is related to abdominal pain, given that when starches and sugars get into the colon and are broken down, a byproduct of this action is hydrogen.
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Since children with IBS also tend to have some degree of psychosocial distress, the researchers also measured certain psychological characteristics before the start of the study. The study consisted of a six-week treatment period during which children either were given psyllium fiber or a placebo. The last two-weeks of the study, the participants kept a diary of their pain episodes and the children were reassessed for their stool patterns, their gut barrier function, their gut bacteria composition and their breath hydrogen levels.
Kids who were in the test group that were given psyllium fiber reported fewer pain episodes than the kids who had been given the placebo. The psyllium fiber treated group reported a decline in pain episodes twice that of the placebo group, indicating a very statistically meaningful difference between the two groups. The children’s psychological characteristics were not altered in either group, and there was no effect on breath hydrogen levels. There were also no differences between the two groups when it came to gut barrier functioning or gut bacteria composition.
“What we predicted might have a relationship to its beneficial effects on pain did not turn out,” Shulman said.
Since the psyllium seemed to only affect pain, and not the other factors, the researchers say they aren’t really sure how psyllium fiber reduced the IBS-related pain, only that it did.
[Image via Pixabay]