If you have to strain on the toilet to have a bowel movement or if you have a bowel movement fewer than three times a week, you may be one of the 4 million Americans that regularly suffer from constipation. Most people try to remedy this problem by drinking more water, exercising, increasing their fiber intake or even using over-the-counter laxatives. However, if you are chronically constipated, something in your diet, such as gluten, may be the cause of your problems. Ask your doctor to test whether you are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease.
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Constipation is one of the symptoms that can be caused by celiac disease. The Celiac Sprue Association estimates that although this condition affects 1 in every 133 Americans, only 3 percent of them have been properly diagnosed. With celiac disease, exposure to even very small amounts of gluten, even a breadcrumb, is enough to cause an autoimmune reaction, which means that your immune system starts attacking your own healthy intestines. Celiac disease is a serious condition and it is important that you be tested, especially if you experience constipation as well as bloating, abdominal pain, very dry skin, muscle soreness, weight loss, mouth sores and fatigue. Ask your doctor for more information.
Even if celiac disease is ruled out, gluten could still be responsible for your constipation. While celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, gluten intolerance creates difficulty digesting gluten, which can result in gastrointestinal problems. Constipation, diarrhea, bloating, flatulence and cramps are not the only symptoms of gluten intolerance. Some people may also experience headaches, brain fog or autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes, as well as weight gain or weight loss.
Gluten in Your Diet
It is common for Americans to eat gluten at every meal. Gluten is found in foods made from wheat, rye and barley. The oats processed in the U.S. are also frequently contaminated with gluten, so oats are not a safe option unless the package says "gluten-free," explains Food Intolerance Awareness. In addition to the obvious sources of gluten such as breads, pasta, couscous, crackers, pizza dough, bagels and baked goods, gluten is also hidden in many processed foods such as sauces, salad dressings, seasonings, frozen entrees and french fries. Avoid foods that are breaded, marinated or in a sauce. If gluten is causing your constipation, eliminating all sources of gluten should resolve your problem.
It can be overwhelming to find out how many everyday foods contain gluten. Fortunately, the market for gluten-free products is increasing, which makes finding them easier. It is important to realize that gluten-free products can be more expensive and a lot of them are not particularly healthy options. Base your gluten-free diet on unprocessed gluten-free foods such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash, all kinds of fruits and vegetables, quinoa, millet, rice, poultry, fish, meat, cheese, plain yogurt, plain nuts, natural nut butter and olive oil, suggests the Celiac Sprue Association.