Gastrointestinal Disorders

Fecal Incontinence: Can Fiber Intake Help Older Women?

The longer a woman maintains a high intake of dietary fiber, the less likely she is to develop fecal incontinence, according to the results of a new study.

Fiber supplements are commonly used to treat fecal incontinence; however, there is limited evidence that prospectively measures the role of fiber as a preventive agent.


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For their study, the researchers examined prospective data from 58,330 women (median age, 73 years) participating in the Nurses’ Health Study. 

Energy-adjusted long-term dietary fiber intake was evaluated via semiquantitative dietary food frequency questionnaires administered in 1984 and updated through 2006. 

Fecal incontinence incidence was defined as a minimum of one liquid or solid fecal incontinence per month during the past year during 4 years of follow-up using self-administered biennial questionnaires.

Results showed that 7056 cases of fecal incontinence were diagnosed between 2008 and 2012 (incidence, 3644 per 100,000 person-years).

The median cumulative average intake of fiber aligned at 13.5 g per day in the lowest quintile to 25 g per day in the highest quintile. 

Compared with woman in the lowest quintile, women in the highest quintile of fiber intake had an 18% lower risk for fecal incontinence and a 31% lower risk for liquid stool fecal incontinence.

Cumulative dietary fiber intake was not significantly associated with the risk for solid stool fecal incontinence. 

“Our findings provide novel evidence for the potential benefit of increasing fiber consumption in women who could be at future risk for fecal incontinence,” researchers wrote.

—Melinda Stevens

Staller K, Song M, Grodstein F, et al. Increased long-term dietary fiber intake is associated with a decreased risk of fecal incontinence in older women. Gastroenterology. 2018;155(3):661-667.