Use of fiber instead of laxative treatment in a geriatric hospital to improve the wellbeing of seniors

J Nutr Health Aging. 2009 Feb;13(2):136-9. doi: 10.1007/s12603-009-0020-2.


Introduction: Constipation is a common problem in the elderly population, especially in geriatric wards. Laxatives are the most preferred solution but current studies link constipation and laxative use to weight-loss and malnutrition in nursing homes. Dietary fibers also affect stool weight and transit time. So, oat-bran effectiveness in reducing the need for bowel medication and weight-loss for geriatric care patients was examined in a geriatric hospital.

Aim: To determine whether the addition of oat-bran to common oral diet can reduce the use of laxatives and improve the wellbeing and bodyweight of the inhabitants of a long-term-care facility.

Methods: The study was designed as a controlled blind intervention trial among 30 frail inhabitants of a geriatric hospital aged 57-100 years with laxative use. Including criteria were: oral food intake and laxatives as therapy and excluding criteria were: parenteral and enteral feeding, surgeries in the gastro- intestinal tract, drugs that shorten or lengthen the passage through the gut, risk of aspiration, swallowing troubles. An intervention and a control group were formed. 15 of them received 7-8 g oat-bran/d for 12 weeks (fiber group) mixed up in the daily common diet of the ward and 15 served as control (control group).

Data collection: Bodyweight was taken at baseline, after 6 weeks and at the end of the supplementation. Data on laxative use, stool frequency and the eating habits of the elderly were recorded.

Results: Laxatives were successfully discontinued by 59% (p < 0.001) in the fiber-group; in the control-group there was an increase of 8% (p=0.218). Bodyweight remained constant in the fiber-group and decreased in the control-group (p=0.002). The oat-fiber supplementation in the introduced form was well tolerated.

Conclusions: Use of oat-fiber allowed discontinuation of laxatives by 59% while improving body-weight and wellbeing of the seniors. Fiber supplementation is a safe and convenient alternative to laxatives in a geriatric hospital.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Avena*
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Constipation / diet therapy*
  • Constipation / drug therapy
  • Diet
  • Dietary Fiber / pharmacology
  • Dietary Fiber / therapeutic use*
  • Frail Elderly
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Laxatives / therapeutic use*
  • Plant Preparations / pharmacology
  • Plant Preparations / therapeutic use*
  • Seeds


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Laxatives
  • Plant Preparations