Can cutting out gluten cause constipation?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It’s estimated that 1% of the population has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where gluten damages the small intestine. For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, following a gluten-free diet is an important way to manage symptoms and prevent further damage.

But for those without gluten-related issues, the benefits of going gluten-free are less clear. In recent years, gluten-free diets have soared in popularity. Surveys show that around 30% of adults say they are trying to eliminate or reduce gluten from their diet. Yet for most people, there is no evidence that cutting out gluten provides any health benefits.

One potential side effect of going gluten-free that isn’t often discussed is constipation. For some people, eliminating gluten can lead to harder, less frequent stools. There are a few reasons why cutting out gluten may cause constipation in some cases:

Gluten-free foods are low in fiber

Many gluten-free substitute foods like breads, pastas and baked goods are made with refined grains like rice flour or tapioca starch instead of wheat flour. Refined grains have had the nutrient-rich bran and germ removed, leaving just the starchy endosperm. This processing removes most of the fiber, vitamins and minerals from the original grain.

Studies show that gluten-free versions of foods like bread and pasta have significantly less fiber than regular wheat-based varieties. Fiber helps add bulk to stool and keeps things moving through the digestive tract. So relying on low-fiber gluten-free products may predispose some people to constipation.

Gluten-free diets change gut bacteria

Recent research indicates that eliminating gluten can alter the population of gut bacteria. The gut microbiome plays an important role in digestion, immunity and overall health. Studies show that people with celiac disease have lower levels of Bifidobacteria species compared to healthy individuals.

When someone without celiac disease goes gluten-free, it also seems to shift the types of bacteria present. Animal studies have found changes to gut microbiota after only one day on a gluten-free diet. These changes to gut bacteria could impact stool consistency and bowel regularity in some people.

Gluten-free diets affect digestion

For those with celiac disease, gluten triggers inflammation and damage to the small intestine. This impairs nutrient absorption. When gluten is removed from the diet, the intestine can heal and digestion typically improves.

But for people without celiac disease, cutting out gluten does not provide any digestive benefits. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. Wheat and other gluten-containing grains are a prebiotic. This means they provide fuel for the beneficial bacteria in your gut that help with digestion and overall health.

Eliminating gluten removes this prebiotic effect. It also means missing out on the vitamins and minerals found in enriched and whole grain wheat products. Together, these changes to digestion could contribute to increased constipation for some people on a gluten-free diet.

Common causes of constipation when going gluten-free

There are a few specific things that can happen when someone cuts out gluten that may make constipation more likely:

Not enough fiber from grains

On average, people get about half of their daily fiber from grains. Whole grains like wheat, oats, barley and rye are excellent sources thanks to their bran and germ. But gluten-free grains tend to be less fibrous.

For example, here is how the fiber content of gluten-free grains compares to wheat:

Grain Total Fiber (grams per cup)
Brown rice 3.5
Quinoa 5.2
100% whole wheat flour 13.2
White rice flour (gluten-free) 0.8

As you can see, popular gluten-free grains like brown rice and quinoa have significantly less fiber per serving compared to whole wheat flour. Relying on these lower fiber grains can make it easier to become constipated.

Overusing binding and thickening agents

Gluten helps give wheat-based foods their structure and texture. To mimic the properties of gluten, many gluten-free products contain binding and thickening agents like:

– Xanthan gum
– Guar gum
– Psyllium husk
– Chia seeds
– Ground flaxseeds

These can be helpful in small amounts. But some gluten-free recipes use a lot to make baked goods rise properly and hold together. Consuming large amounts of binding agents can absorb too much water in the digestive tract. This can result in drier, harder stools that are more difficult to pass.

Too many processed foods

Many pre-packaged gluten-free products are made with refined gluten-free grains low in fiber and nutrients. They also tend to be higher in fat, sugar and sodium than whole foods naturally without gluten like fruits, veggies, beans, nuts and seeds.

Filling your diet with a lot of low-fiber, high-sugar processed gluten-free foods can lead to constipation. It’s best to focus on naturally gluten-free whole foods as much as possible when eliminating gluten.

Inadequate hydration

Staying hydrated is essential for regular bowel movements. Stool moves through the colon thanks to water content. Dehydration can cause constipation by hardening stool and slowing down digestion.

Many gluten-free substitute foods are dry and absorb a lot of water. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids when following a gluten-free diet to stay regular. Aim for about 64 ounces (8 cups) of water daily as a minimum. Increase this if you exercise or live in a hot climate.

Low intake of probiotic foods

Probiotics are beneficial gut bacteria that support digestion. Some of the best sources of probiotics are fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi. These foods often contain wheat, barley or rye.

On a gluten-free diet, it can be challenging to get enough probiotics. This may disrupt the gut microbiome balance in a way that impacts stool consistency. Try to eat traditional gluten-free fermented foods like tempeh, miso, natto and kombucha regularly when avoiding gluten.

Not enough healthy fats

Dietary fat helps lubricate stool and keep it moving smoothly through the colon. Low fat diets have even been shown to cause constipation in some cases. Gluten-free diets can be low in healthy fats since they eliminate foods like whole wheat and barley which contain beneficial fats.

Getting adequate healthy fats from olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and fatty fish helps prevent constipation. Make sure to incorporate plenty of these good fat sources when transitioning to gluten-free.

Tips to prevent gluten-free constipation

If you’re prone to constipation when avoiding gluten, there are steps you can take to help stay regular:

Increase fiber intake

Aim for at least 25-30 grams of fiber per day. Focus on getting fiber from naturally gluten-free whole foods:

– Beans and lentils
– Nuts and seeds
– Fruits and vegetables
– Gluten-free whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat and millet

Soak and sprout grains and legumes to enhance nutrition and digestibility.

Stay hydrated

Drink at least 64 ounces of fluids per day. Water is best. Increase hydration with exercise, hot weather or during illnesses.

Get moving

Regular exercise stimulates the digestive system. Aim for 30 minutes of activity most days. Something as simple as a daily walk can help prevent constipation.

Eat probiotic foods

Try to include some probiotic-rich foods in your diet like kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha. You can also take a probiotic supplement if needed.

Manage stress

Stress can interfere with healthy digestion. Make time for relaxation like yoga, deep breathing, massage or meditation. Getting enough sleep is also important.

Try magnesium supplements

Magnesium relaxes the colon muscles to support regular bowel movements. Most people don’t get enough magnesium. Taking 200-400 mg per day in supplement form may help alleviate constipation.

Consider psyllium husk

Psyllium is a soluble fiber supplement made from seed husks. It absorbs water in the gut to ease passage of stool. Start with 1 teaspoon per day and increase slowly up to 1-2 tablespoons if needed.

Ask your doctor about probiotics

A high quality probiotic supplement may help get your gut microbiome back in balance. Look for a formula with diverse strains and at least 10 billion CFU guaranteed at expiration.

Is constipation on a gluten-free diet preventable?

For most people, constipation when avoiding gluten is preventable with a little preparation and planning:

– Get fiber from naturally gluten-free whole foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and gluten-free whole grains. This provides bulk to stool and mimics the fiber you miss by cutting out wheat products.

– Stay hydrated since Gluten-free substitutes can be drier. Aim for 64+ ounces of water per day.

– Include healthy fats from plant foods like avocado, olives, nuts and seeds which help lubricate stool.

– Take probiotic supplements or eat probiotic foods regularly to maintain healthy gut flora.

– Exercise daily and find ways to manage stress levels. Getting enough sleep is also key.

– Try natural remedies like magnesium or psyllium husk if needed. Check with your doctor first.

Focusing on overall diet quality, hydration status, exercise, sleep and stress management can help prevent most cases of gluten-free constipation. Pay attention to your digestive health when transitioning to gluten-free. If constipation persists despite lifestyle remedies, consult your healthcare provider.

When to see a doctor about gluten-free constipation

Occasional constipation when avoiding gluten is common and usually not a major concern. But if you experience persistent or severe constipation for more than 2 weeks, it’s a good idea to get evaluated by a doctor.

See your physician promptly if constipation is accompanied by:

– Blood in stool
– Persistent abdominal pain or cramping
– Unexplained weight loss
– Nausea or vomiting
– Inability to pass gas

These can be signs of a potentially serious medical issue. Your doctor can do testing to identify any underlying problems.

Getting checked by a gastroenterologist is recommended if you have ongoing issues with constipation while gluten-free. They may recommend tests like:

– Blood tests to check for nutrient deficiencies like iron or vitamin D
– Stool analysis to look for infection
– Anorectal manometry to evaluate pelvic floor dysfunction
– Abdominal x-ray to visualize stool backed up in the colon
– Colonoscopy to check for colon polyps or bowel obstruction

Based on test results, your doctor can offer solutions. This may include laxatives, prescription strength probiotics, pelvic floor therapy or in rare cases surgery.

Don’t ignore persistent bowel issues. Seek medical advice to rule out any serious conditions and get relief from uncomfortable gluten-free constipation.

Is constipation common when eliminating gluten?

There isn’t a lot of research on how often constipation occurs when following a gluten-free diet. But based on anecdotal reports, it’s fairly common:

– In online forums, many people mention dealing with constipation after going gluten-free. They report harder, less frequent stools often accompanied by bloating and gas.

– In a survey of over 1,500 gluten-free consumers, 34% said they experienced increased constipation while avoiding gluten.

– One study asked people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity about symptoms before and after a gluten-free diet. 44% said they had constipation while consuming gluten. After going gluten-free, this decreased to 22% reporting constipation.

So while gluten-free diets seem to relieve constipation for some people, others experience the opposite effect. Those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity may find bowel habits improve significantly without gluten.

But for others cutting it out can lead to digestive issues like harder stools and irregularity. This is likely due to the combination of lower fiber intake, changes to the gut microbiome and diminished prebiotic effects from grain fibers.

If you have problems with constipation when you remove gluten from your diet, you’re definitely not alone. Making sure to get enough fiber, fluids, exercise and probiotics can help minimize the likelihood of gluten-free constipation.

Tips for dealing with occasional constipation on a gluten-free diet

If you’re experiencing occasional constipation when avoiding gluten, here are some ways to help get things moving again:

– Drink a large glass of warm water with fresh lemon juice when you wake up. This hydrates the colon and stimulates contractions.

– Eat a serving of dried plums (prunes). Prunes contain sorbitol which pulls water into the intestines to soften stool.

– Try a probiotic supplement with a strain like Bifidobacterium lactis which is linked to easier bowel movements.

– Eat a handful of cashews for magnesium. You need adequate magnesium for colon contractions.

– Go for a brisk walk. Exercise and movement stimulate the digestive tract.

– Enjoy a cup of ginger tea. Ginger acts as a digestive aid that can ease constipation.

– Take a teaspoon of olive oil on an empty stomach. The fat helps lubricate the intestines.

– Massage your abdomen clockwise to encourage contractions.

– Try reflexology. Massaging the arch of your left foot may promote a bowel movement.

– Do yoga poses like child’s pose, happy baby and squats to get things moving.

– Relax and take a warm bath, listen to music or meditate to lower stress.

Paying attention to diet, exercise, hydration, probiotics and stress levels can help prevent ongoing issues with gluten-free constipation. But occasional bouts happen to most people. Using natural remedies can help get your digestion back on track.

Are there benefits to going gluten-free for gut health?

For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, eliminating gluten is critical. In these cases, a gluten-free diet provides huge benefits for gut health by:

– Allowing the intestinal villi to heal and recover

– Reducing inflammation

– Rebalancing gut bacteria

– Alleviating uncomfortable digestive symptoms

But for people without gluten issues, research shows minimal benefits from going gluten-free for gut health. Some studies have found potential drawbacks like:

– Increased gut permeability (leaky gut)

– Imbalances in beneficial gut bacteria

– Impaired immune function

This may be partly due to the high use of refined gluten-free grains low in fiber. As well as lower intake of prebiotic fibers from wheat products that feed good gut bacteria.

That being said, a gluten-free diet focused on whole foods naturally without gluten could still support gut health. Emphasizing fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and gluten-free whole grains supplies prebiotic fiber. Probiotic foods can also help nourish gut microbiota diversity.

So while just cutting out gluten alone may not benefit your gut if you don’t have celiac disease or sensitivity, combining a gluten-free and whole foods diet could still be gut-healthy. But it requires knowledge of how to prevent potential issues like constipation.


Going gluten-free can lead to constipation for some people. Lower fiber intake, gut flora imbalance, and diminished prebiotic effects seem to be the main factors. But with care to maintain regular bowel habits, constipation on a gluten-free diet is preventable and manageable for most people.

Focus on getting fiber from whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and gluten-free grains. Stay hydrated, exercise, manage stress and eat probiotic foods to support gut motility. Be aware of binding agents in processed gluten-free products. Try natural remedies like magnesium or prune juice for occasional constipation relief.

See your doctor if you have persistent issues when gluten-free. They can check for underlying problems and help get your digestive health back on track. Pay attention to your body and take steps to promote regularity in order to feel your best on a gluten-free diet.

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