Many children in western countries suffer from chronic constipation, and when the going gets slow, fiber seems to beat all other non-drug remedies, new research from the Netherlands suggests.
A review of nine studies with 640 children up to age 18 with functional constipation, which has no known physical cause, found that fiber supplements were somewhat better than placebos at reducing kids' abdominal pain and improving frequency and consistency of stools.
Other common non-drug treatments -- including prebiotics and probiotics, which help restore the digestive tract's balance of "good bacteria," increased water intake or behavioral therapy -- were deemed to be of little use, a finding that puzzles some doctors.
"Treatments we typically use were not, in fact, proven by these studies to be effective. I find that very difficult to believe and put into practice," said Dr. Roya Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., who was not involved with the research.
"Anecdotally, that doesn't really jive with what I see in clinical practice. Increasing water intake helps with the improvement of establishing normal bowel habits, and I find it hard to agree with the concrete findings of the study," Samuels added.