The Good Gut, Part I: Guar Gum
Welcome to The Good Gut, a series of posts on supplements, remedies, foods, and other solutions backed by research to support digestive health in one way or another. I’ll find and sift through peer-reviewed studies and evidence-based practice guidelines so you don’t have to. If you’re reading this during an IBS flare up, or your abdomen is so distended that you actually feel pregnant, just know that you’re not alone and I’m writing this for you because I’ve been there (like… yesterday).
First up: guar gum.
Let’s start with guar gum. Heard of it? I’m starting with it because it’s something I’ve actually completely changed my mind about after digging into the research (which is totally ok to do), and I’m hoping I can spread the good word to help some other IBS sufferers out there. Or anyone that just wants to be a little more regular. Or anyone that just doesn’t want to be afraid when they see this gum on their food label.
Guar gum, or guar fiber, is a water soluble fiber that comes from the seeds of the guar plant found in Pakistan and India. This fiber forms a gel-like substance in your digestive tract, which is why you’ve probably seen it in a lot of gluten-free foods as a thickening or binding agent.
Besides its role in the food industry, people have been using guar gum for a lot of different reasons for many years. So this isn’t a “fad” product. Some of these uses include:
Treating constipation/diarrhea and IBS in general
Lowering high cholesterol and high blood pressure
Treating SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial growth (look for an upcoming post on this)
Treating cholestasis (or when the bile flow from the liver is impacted)
Experts say that guar gum is kind of a big deal when it comes to helping manage IBS symptoms because it not only treats constipation, but it also reduces the occurrence of diarrhea. And if talking about diarrhea, constipation, or anything poop-related weirds you out, keep movin’ because that’s what The Good Gut is all about (puns for days). Other clinical effects that guar gum is known to have among experts include:
Helps promote satiety or fullness after eating
Has a cholesterol- and lipid-lowering effect
Enhances mineral absorption (when deficient)
First off, guar gum is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA as a food additive (phew!). Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the specific research for what experts say about guar gum and digestive health.
Guar gum is recognized as possibly effective in the research in treating constipation by bulking and softening stool, and as such, increasing output (aka, you go more often). Other research showed that taking 5 milligrams of guar gum daily for four weeks significantly increased the colonic transit time (aka how long it takes for your food to pass through your large intestine) and frequency of bowel movements in patients with chronic constipation and slow transit times. These are just two studies out of many showing the same benefits.
Guar gum is also well-studied as having a positive effect on diarrhea, but the majority of the legitimate research is focused on children with acute diarrhea and patients with enteral/tube feeding. Nonetheless, this research does show that taking guar gum reduced the occurrence or duration of diarrhea in certain situations. One study, however, did show that taking 5 grams per day of a specific guar gum (Sunfiber) was more successful in helping symptoms of IBS-D (diarrhea-predominant IBS) than was taking 30 grams of wheat bran per day (although both were helpful).
In regards to IBS in general, guar gum has been shown in research to reduce abdominal pain and overall quality of life, including psychological distress. Although the latter study only showed improvements in the short-term, it still provides promising benefits that warrant further research. If you suffer from any digestive health issues, you know how much your symptoms can affect your day-to-day quality of life. Your nausea, bloating, pain, or distention might affect your appetite, ability to exercise, or desire to even put on clothes and leave the house. And speaking of leaving the house, chronic diarrhea can leave you feeling chained to the bathroom for most of the day if not all of it. To find something that would really help someone’s symptoms and is also well-researched might really change someone’s life. So this research on one simple type of fiber is really exciting.
There’s less convincing research on how effective guar gum is in treating SIBO (again, it’s the condition when bacteria from the large intestine inappropriately invades the small intestine). However, some research shows that taking guar gum alongside the typically prescribed antibiotic rifaximin slightly increases the chance of SIBO eradication versus taking the antibiotic alone.
In my opinion, most of the research on guar gum is pretty convincing. And since guar gum is GRAS, there doesn’t seem to be any safety concerns with taking it. Every body tolerates things differently, and some adverse effects like abdominal cramping and pain, diarrhea, gas, heart burn, and loose stools have been reported with guar gum consumption. If you are interested in trying guar gum, a good rule of thumb is to start with a small amount and increase as tolerated. As with any fiber supplement, it is so important to make sure you drink at least 8 ounces (1 cup) of water to make sure it doesn’t form that gel in your throat or intestines and create a blockage.
But, as I always say, check with your doc when adding new supplements to your diet, and this blog post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or other conditions, symptoms, etc.
What do you think? Have you tried guar gum and found relief? Let me know!
Special thanks to the Natural Medicines Database for providing much of this research and for being a generally awesome place for peer-reviewed research on nutrition topics.