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Inulin

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Inulin is a type of fiber that's found in certain plant foods. Chicory root is the main source of inulin in supplement form.

Chicory was originally found in Europe and Asia. Egyptians grew it thousands of years ago as a medicine. It's now grown in the U.S.

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Your small intestine does not absorb inulin. When it reaches your large intestine (colon), bacteria ferment it.

Why do people take inulin?

People often use inulin to try to treat or prevent digestive problems.

Inulin may:

Decrease constipation. In one study, older people with constipation who took 15 grams of inulin daily for a month had less trouble with constipation.

Increase helpful bacteria in the colon. Because it has this effect, inulin is called a prebiotic. Prebiotics may have numerous health benefits. They may:

  • Help increase the amount of calcium and other minerals you absorb from food
  • Support a healthy immune system
  • Relieve intestinal problems

Inulin may also lower levels of triglycerides, a type of blood fat.

Suggested dosages vary by supplement maker. Optimal doses of inulin have not been set for any condition. Quality and active ingredients in supplements may vary widely from maker to maker. This makes it hard to set a standard dose.

Can you get inulin naturally from foods?

Many foods -- and plants that are less commonly eaten -- contain inulin. These include:

  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Burdock
  • Chicory, which is used in salads
  • Dandelion root
  • Garlic
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Leeks
  • Onions

Inulin is found in some processed foods as a replacement for fat, such as:

  • Candy bars
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Ice cream

When combined with water in a precise way, it can mimic the texture of fat in these foods.

What are the risks of taking inulin?

Side effects. Inulin may cause allergic reactions, with symptoms that can include:

  • Asthma
  • Skin rash
  • Contact dermatitis

Avoid chicory if you are allergic to ragweed. It is in the same family. Chicory is also related to chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies.

Inulin may also cause:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Loose stools
  • Gas
  • More frequent bowel movements

Risks. Inulin-type prebiotics are generally recognized as safe. Chicory itself, however, is not recommended in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It may lead to miscarriage.

Chicory may also interfere with certain drugs and supplements.

Interactions. Inulin may increase the amount of calcium you absorb from foods.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate dietary supplements; however, it treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before selling them on the market.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on December 07, 2014

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