Q: Will taking fiber pills lower my cholesterol and help me avoid a heart attack?
A: You don't need to take fiber supplements. You can get all the fiber you need from the foods you eat.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body cannot break down, so you can't absorb it.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber is found in all fruits, vegetables, whole grain and beans. It adds bulk to stool and helps to prevent constipation.
Soluble fiber binds to fat in your intestines and keeps some of the fat from being absorbed. Soluble fiber is found in all citrus fruits, rice, barley, oats, beans and peas.
Soluble fiber has another benefit. When it is added to the diet, it lowers blood levels of the "bad" LDL cholesterol that can cause fatty plaques to build up in your bloodstream and block an artery, which in turn can cause a heart attack.
Soluble fiber is degraded by bacteria in the colon to form types of fatty acids that are absorbed into the bloodstream to help block the synthesis of cholesterol by the liver.
However, if your cholesterol is high, you need more than extra soluble fiber in your diet. You should not smoke. Lose weight if you are overweight. Eat less food -- especially less fat, less saturated fat and less cholesterol. And you should get into a supervised program of regular exercise.
Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.