The recent launch of a number of fibre enriched polymeric diet in the United States and Europe has stimulated considerable interest in the topic of fibre and enteral nutrition, and several commercial concerns appear to be under considerable pressures from their consumers to produce similar products. As a means of identifying areas of potential application of fibre to enteral nutrition some of the recent knowledge gained about the physical properties of dietary fibre and the processes involved in the intestinal assimilation of fibre has been reviewed. Two areas of interest are identifiable. The first relates to the bulking properties of fibre and the application of this to the regulation of bowel function in enterally fed patients. It is clear from the clinical studies that have been reviewed that there remains a paucity of controlled data, and a great deal more research is needed before widespread use of fibre supplemented diets can be supported. Perhaps of greater interest academically is the potentially beneficial effects that appear to be exerted by the VFA's, liberated as a consequence of colonic bacterial fermentation of fibre, on morphology and function of ileal and colonic mucosa. Although there are a number of potential applications of fibre supplemented enteral diets in this area, more research is required before any firm recommendations can be made about recommending their use. The one exception concerns patients with the nutritionally inadequate short bowel syndrome. There does seem to be sufficient experimental evidence to suggest that clinical studies should be commenced using a pectin supplemented predigested 'elemental' diet in these patients. Overall therefore, one is forced to conclude that the increasing interest and use of fibre supplemented enteral diets is being driven more by market than scientific forces. Nevertheless, the promotion of these diets has already provided a powerful stimulus to the scientific community, and it remains entirely possible that many of the potential applications of these diets will be realised in the near future.
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