For adults, curing chronic constipation may be as simple as buying a fiber supplement at the supermarket. Although constipation is also common in kids — a quarter of all visits to the pediatric gastroenterologist involve pooping problems — it's not clear whether fiber supplements can effectively get things moving. But according to research from Barcelona, Spain, fiber supplements made with cocoa husks can effectively prevent and treat constipation in children.
For this study, 48 3- to 10-year-old kids who'd experienced constipation within the last year were divided into two groups: for 4 weeks, one took a cocoa-husk fiber supplement while the other took an inactive placebo pill. Parents recorded information about the kids' toilet habits and bowel movements, encouraged kids to sit on the toilet after meals to facilitate defecation, and gave stool samples from the kids to researchers. At the end of the study, parents also noted whether they thought the treatment effectively relieved their children's constipation.
The kids taking the fiber supplement tended to have faster "colonic transit time," which means their poop spent less time in the intestines before exiting the body. Also, these kids had more bowel movements than the kids taking the placebo, and reported fewer hard stools. And significantly more kids in the fiber supplement group reported an improvement in constipation after the 4-week trial with no serious side effects.
What This Means to You. The study results indicate that a type of fiber supplement made of cocoa husks may effectively and safely relieve chronic constipation in young children. In addition to protecting your child from digestive problems, a fiber-rich diet may also help lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol. To increase fiber intake, serve fiber-rich foods such as whole-grain breads and cereals, apples, oranges, bananas, berries, prunes, pears, peas, beans, and nuts.
A child may be constipated who complains of feeling full or bloated, says that it hurts to poop, strains to poop, or says that there's blood on the toilet paper after wiping. Talk to your doctor about specific steps to prevent and treat constipation.
Source: Gemma Castillejo, MD; Monica Bullo, PhD; Anna Anguera, MD, PhD; Joaquin Escribano, MD, PhD; Jordi Salas-Salvado, MD, PhD; Pediatrics, September 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven, Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2006