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Summary

Background  Enteral nutrition can be associated with gastrointestinal side effects and fibre supplementation has been proposed as a means to normalize bowel function.

Aim  To evaluate systematically the effects of fibre supplementation of enteral feeds in healthy volunteers and patients both in the hospital and community settings.

Methods  Electronic and manual bibliographic searches were conducted. Controlled studies in adults or children, comparing fibre-supplemented vs. fibre-free formulae given as the sole source of nutrition for at least 3 days, were included.

Results  Fifty-one studies (including 43 randomized-controlled trials), enrolling 1762 subjects (1591 patients and 171 healthy volunteers) met the inclusion criteria. Fibre supplementation was generally well tolerated. In the hospital setting, the incidence of diarrhoea was reduced as a result of fibre administration (OR 0.68, 95% CI: 0.48–0.96; 13 randomized-controlled trials). Meta-regression showed a more pronounced effect when the baseline incidence of diarrhoea was high. In both patients and healthy subjects, fibre significantly reduced bowel frequency when baseline frequency was high and increased it when it was low, revealing a significant moderating effect of fibre.

Conclusions  The review indicates that the fibre-supplemented enteral formulae have important physiological effects and clinical benefits. There is a need to use a consistent approach to undertake more studies on this issue in the community setting.