Can I Use Fiber Supplements to Lower My Cholesterol?

Soluble fiber has been shown in studies to lower LDL cholesterol by up to 20%. It primarily works by preventing the absorption of cholesterol from the small intestine into the bloodstream. You can obtain soluble fiber from your diet through a variety of foods, including:

  • Whole grains – such as whole grain rice, whole wheat bread, oatmeal, and barley
  • Legumes – including beans, lentils, chickpeas and soy
  • Vegetables – such as leafy greens, celery, and root vegetables
  • Fruit – including oranges, apples, berries and grapes

The National Cholesterol Education Program and American Heart Association recommend that you should be consuming up to 25 grams of soluble fiber daily. However, if you aren’t used to eating high-fiber foods or don’t have time to fit them in your diet, it might be tempting to consider taking a fiber supplement instead. But is taking a fiber supplement just as good as consuming foods that are high in soluble fiber?

There are a wide variety of fiber supplements – in powdered and capsule form – located in the aisles of your local pharmacy. These products are under different names and contain different types of soluble fiber. The following ingredients are forms of soluble fiber:

  • Psyllium (Konsyl, Metamucil, Fiberall, various store brands)
  • Wheat dextrin (Benefiber, various store brands)
  • Pectin (various natural products)
  • Polycarbophil (Fibercon, Fiberlax, various store brands)
  • Methylcellulose (Citrucel, various store brands)

Although taking a fiber supplement allows you to fit in the recommended amount of soluble fiber in your diet, it won't supply the vitamins, minerals, and other healthy nutrients that high-fiber foods can provide. Additionally, studies have shown that fiber supplements are not as helpful to you if you are not already following a healthy diet. Therefore, just because you are getting your fiber from a supplement, you should still be following a healthy, balanced diet to lower your lipids.

Just like high fiber foods, fiber supplements can also cause some undesirable side effects, such as constipation, abdominal cramping, and bloating. Drinking plenty of water can help prevent you from experiencing these unpleasant side effects. If you are interested in including a fiber supplement as part of your cholesterol-lowering regimen, you should talk to your healthcare provider so that he or she can assess your health and make sure that taking a fiber supplement will not aggravate any medical conditions you might have or interact with any medications you are taking.

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  • Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH et al. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutr Rev 2011;64:188-205.
  • Rolfes SR, Whitney E. Understanding Nutrition, 14th ed 2015.
  • Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (PDF), July 2004, The National Institutes of Heath: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
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