Our ancestors who lived without grains, sugars, and soft drinks enjoyed predictable bowel behavior. They ate some turtle, fish, clams, mushrooms, coconut, or mongongo nuts for breakfast, and out it all came that afternoon or evening—large, steamy, filled with undigested remains and prolific quantities of bacteria, no straining, laxatives, or stack of magazines required. If instead you are living a modern life and have pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast, you’ll be lucky to pass that out by tomorrow or the next day. Or perhaps you will be constipated, not passing out your pancakes and syrup for days, passing it incompletely in hard, painful bits and pieces. In constipation’s most extreme forms, the remains of pancakes can stay in your colon for weeks.
Bran is not the answer.
We have been given advice to consume more fiber. So we eat bran cereal/muffins, whole grain breads or drink powdered fiber supplements. Most of these grain-based foods contain insoluble cellulose (wood) fibers. This does work for some, as indigestible cellulose fibers, undigested by our own digestive apparatus as well as undigested by bowel flora, yields “bulk” that people mistake for a healthy bowel movement. Never mind that all of the other disruptions of digestion, from your mouth on down, are not addressed by loading up your diet with wood fibers. What if sluggish bowel movements prove unresponsive to such fibers? That’s when health care comes to the rescue with laxatives.
Drugs are not the answer.
Laxatives are prescribed in a variety of forms, some irritative (phenolphthalein and senna), some lubricating (dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate, Colace), some osmotic (polyethylene glycol, Miralax), some no different than spraying you down with a hose (enemas).
Opiate drugs such as Oxycontin and morphine are commonly constipating. There’s even a new drug being widely advertised to “treat” the constipation side-effect of opiates: Relistor, or methylnaltrexone, an opiate-blocker that requires injection and costs around $700 per month. Those of you who have read Undoctored or Wheat Belly Total Health recall that the gliadin protein of wheat and related proteins in other grains (e.g., secalin in rye) are partially digested to peptides that have opiate (“opioid”) properties, including binding to the opiate receptors in the human intestine. Wheat and grains therefore contain a disrupter of intestinal motility, slowing or halting the normal propulsive peristaltic waves that were supposed to expediently pass food through 30 or so feet of intestines.
Living grain-free is the answer.
Simply remove wheat and grains and constipation, even obstipation (severe, unrelenting constipation with bowel movements occurring every several weeks), can be relieved within a couple of weeks, often within just a few days.
This works because you have just removed the opiates that slow the intestinal passage of food. You will have removed a source of cellulose fiber, as well as the modest content of prebiotic fibers from grains, namely amylose and arabinoxylan, but these are easily replaced.
The Undoctored / Wheat Belly approach to eliminating constipation is simple:
- Eliminate all wheat and grains–thereby eliminating gliadin-derived opiates.
- Cultivate the garden called bowel flora–by “seeding” with a high-potency probiotic, enthusiastic consumption of fermented foods, followed by “water and fertilizer” to nourish desired bacterial species with prebiotic fibers.
- Hydrate well.
- Supplement with magnesium. Ever notice that many laxatives are nothing more than forms of magnesium, such as milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide)? Virtually everyone begins with a magnesium deficiency that adds to disrupted intestinal motility. This is reversed by supplementing magnesium. However, the degree of stool loosening varies among the different preparations due to their variations in osmotic (water-imbibing) effects.
- Here is where choosing a less efficiently absorbed form of magnesium may be preferable. Such forms cause an osmotic effect, pulling water into the intestines, a benign process compared to irritative laxatives like phenolphthalein or senna that exert low-grade damage over time and are even associated with increased cancer risk. Magnesium water and magnesium malate are among our preferred forms, as they are least likely to generate loose stools while softly helping out with regularity. Magnesium citrate can be used if you do indeed need a bit more stool softening and regularity (which can be due to delayed recovery of intestinal motility after removing wheat and grains). Taking 400 milligrams of magnesium citrate two or three times per day is a good place to start. If nothing happens after 24 hours, one or more doses of 800 to 1,200 milligrams will usually do the trick; then back down to the 400-milligram dose two or three times per day.
- Supplement with fiber. For most people, prebiotic fibers are the only form of fiber you need. Adding fibers beyond prebiotic fibers is not necessary for the majority of people living the Wheat Belly/Undoctored lifestyle. Only a rare person needs to add fiber beyond the prebiotic fibers that we supplement to cultivate bowel flora. Just by adhering to the simple strategies of consuming nuts; seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, chia, flaxseed, and sunflower; eating plenty of vegetable with limited servings of fruit and legumes like chickpeas, you obtain plentiful quantities of cellulose and other fibers. If you are among those who do better with supplemental fiber for “bulk,” ground golden flaxseed, chia seed, and psyllium seed (e.g., 1 tablespoon added to foods) are benign forms.
You can see that the Wheat Belly/Undoctored approach does not rely on artificial means of reversing constipation to restore normal gut motility. On this lifestyle you will also not have to deal with acid reflux or the bloating and diarrhea of irritable bowel syndrome.
This lifestyle does not load up on unnatural quantities of cellulose fiber, as you would by eating bran cereals and muffins, nor does it rely on intestinal irritants, softening agents, or opiate-blocking drugs. The Wheat Belly/Undoctored approach removes all disrupters of intestinal motility, restores bowel flora, and encourages the consumption of foods that naturally support bowel health.
Not all people practicing a grain free diet have issues with constipation. I have been grain free for three years and never had an issue with this. Almost daily I consume portions of fruit, avocado, nuts and seeds.
Deb wrote: «Not all people practicing a grain free diet have issues with constipation.»
Few do, which was a message of the article above. Or did you mean to say something different?
re: «I have been grain free for three years and never had an issue with this. Almost daily I consume portions of fruit, avocado, nuts and seeds.»
Yep. Most people promptly convert to smooth outcomes, but in a few, correcting the diet reveals latent problems requiring specific attention.
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I still have constipation after being grain free for 5 years. I eat meats, veggies, cheese and yogurt, nuts /seeds, eat chia, take inulin 3x/day, drink water and take probiotics and eat fermented foods (pickles, sauerkraut and kombucha). I still have small, pebbly stools. Very frustrating.
I also eat avocado. And some peanut butter.
Bellamouse wrote: «I got constipated after I eliminated wheat.»
For some context, which program are you following, and for how long? You didn’t mention supplements other than probiotics and a couple of prebiotics, so anyone with insight might need to know where you are on Mg, D3, DHA&EPA, thyroid(and iodine), etc., but Mg in particular (grams of elemental Mg & compound).
re: «…take probiotics…»
re: «…use inulin 2-3 times a day … added chia seeds…»
How many grams of prebiotic fiber do you estimate per day? And until adding the chia, was is just inulin? The program recommends working up to 20g/day of mixed and varied (the may not be the issue, but is worth contemplating).
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