Rye bread helps relieve constipation, and other tips for bowel regularity

I eat a relatively low-carb diet, and as a result, eat very little bread indeed. I literally cannot remember the last time I ate a sandwich, for instance. And when I do eat bread, I tend to opt for a thin slice or two of dark rye bread. I prefer rye to wheat bread partly because it releases sugar more slowly into the bloodstream. Also, in my experience, rye is less ‘allergenic’ than wheat, meaning that it’s less likely to trigger unwanted reactions that can manifest as, say, abdominal discomfort, bloating and fatigue.

Now there’s another reason to opt for rye bread over wheat: a study published in this month’s Journal of Nutrition has found that it is more effective at maintaining bowel regularity [1]. In this study of constipated adults, rye bread (compared to wheat bread) eased the passing of stools, and upped their frequency too. It also reduced the amount of time it took for food to make its way along the length of the gut.

Rye bread is, of course, not the only food that may help maintain regularity in the bowel. Other relatively-fibre rich foods that can play a role here include oats, beans, pulses, and fruit and veg. Note I have omitted ‘bran’-rich foods such as high-fibre breakfast cereals and breads. As I mentioned above, I find wheat to be quite a common allergen, and wheat-bran fibre itself does often seem to be irritant to the gut.

Other natural approaches to constipation, for those with a tendency to this issues, include:

1. Use natural bulking agents
An effective and convenient way to increase your fibre intake is to add a natural bulking agent to the diet. 1 or 2 dessertspoonfuls of linseeds each day usually have the desired effect.

2. Drink more water
Without water, waste in the gut can become dry and stuck; a bit like the cork in the neck of a wine bottle. Drink enough water to keep your urine pale yellow in colour throughout the course of the day.

3. Be active
Regular exercise is well known to help relieve constipation. Aim to take about half and hour’s worth of aerobic exercise such as brisk walking or jogging on most days.

4. Take magnesium
Magnesium is important to help keep the muscles in the lining of the gut working normally. Eating nuts and green leafy vegetables will help keep magnesium intake up, but supplementation (about 400 mg per day) may help too.

5. Always respond to the call of nature
Failing to respond to the urge to open your bowels may condition your body to suppress this reflex and worsen constipation in the long term. Whenever possible, let nature take its course.

6. Squat, don’t sit
Squatting, rather than sitting, is believed to be a better anatomical position for effective elimination of waste from the bowel. Putting your feet up on the bathroom bin may just help tip the balance in your favour.

7. Optimise thyroid function

Low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) can cause constipation. Common symptoms of this condition include weight gain, fatigue, sensitivity to cold, dry skin and hair, and low mood. Individuals with some or all of these symptoms should, in the first instance, discuss the possibility of hypothyroidism with their doctor. However, it needs to be borne in mind that conventional tests for thyroid function are not a reliable as some would have us believe. See here for more on this.

Please note: Constipation can sometimes be the results of a tumour in the colon, so a persistent change in bowel habit needs to be reported to one’s doctor.

References:

1. Holma R, et al. Constipation Is Relieved More by Rye Bread Than Wheat Bread or Laxatives without Increased Adverse Gastrointestinal Effects. Journal of Nutrition 2010;140(3):534-541

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11 Responses to Rye bread helps relieve constipation, and other tips for bowel regularity

  1. Jenny 5 March 2010 at 1:30 am #

    Hi there, Dr. B! You forgot one very important bowel regulator which should be right up near the top–good fats, mostly saturated. Plenty of butter, coconut oil, lard and beef fat all grease the tubes, so to speak.

    Those who are new to low-carbing frequently become constipated because they are trying to eat a low-carb, low FAT diet because they are still conditioned to avoid fat.

    Once they break that conditioning and increase the good fats in their diet to 50-70%, things go much more smoothly.

    No-Longer Fat-Phobic,
    Jenny

  2. Jenny 5 March 2010 at 1:39 am #

    Huh, I just now saw this article, “Atkins diet’s return reflects idea that saturated fat shouldn’t be demonized”:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/02/AR2010030202091.html?hpid=sec-health

  3. Jamie 5 March 2010 at 11:13 am #

    A well-brewed cup of black coffee in the morning is another good way to get the bowel moving as the irritant nature of the caffeine to the bowel helps stimulate peristalsis.

  4. Nancy LC 6 March 2010 at 1:11 am #

    Rye bread contains the same component that wheat has that causes issues for so many people: Gluten.

    Sometimes I wonder if perhaps these things that make us “go” do so because they irritate our intestines.

  5. John Duggan 11 March 2010 at 12:38 am #

    I am an enthusiastic supporter of rye bread, which goes brilliantly well with good stuff, like smoked fish, eggs, rare roast beef etc etc. Beware, however, its potential for provoking spectacular flatulence and consume carefully in advance of important social and business occasions

  6. Selwyn 24 January 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    Rye bread is the answer. Thank you.

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