Volume 11, Issue 87 October 8, 2014
Does bread make constipation worse or better? The answer may surprise you...
WebMD says "chronic constipation leads to around 2.5 million doctor visits" every year in the U.S. It certainly is one of the most common complaints I hear. Some are so bad that they have to take laxatives in order to have even one to two movements a week. They are looking for answers. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to help. But I have one that may surprise you.

As you may know, one answer certainly is diet. A diet too low in fiber and/or water is often the cause. But how much fiber? One study looked at the effect of whole-grain rye bread and lactobacillus probiotics compared to laxative medications. The results were amazing. Who would have guessed a food worked so well?

The researchers studied 51 men and women who were all on various medications for chronic constipation. All the participants kept track of their diets, bowel function, and bowel-related symptoms. The researchers also measured their total intestinal transit time (TITT). TITT is the amount of time it takes for food to go in one end and out the other. Obviously, the more constipated a person is, the longer their TITT will be.

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The researchers then divided the participants into four groups. They gave one group a minimum of 240 grams per day of whole-grain rye bread instead of their laxatives. Another group had a probiotic instead of their laxatives. A third group had the rye bread plus the probiotic. And the last group ate a maximum of 192 grams of white bread. The study went on for three weeks.

I don't have to tell you that the white bread people did not have any improvement. But the remarkable thing was how well the folks eating rye bread did. The TITT in those in the rye-bread group was almost half (40%) of what it had been when they were taking the laxatives. I call that a very moving conclusion. The rye bread group also had a 40% increase in bowel movements along with softer, easier to pass stools. "In conclusion, rye bread relieves mild constipation and improves colonic metabolism compared with white wheat bread and commonly used laxatives without increasing gastrointestinal adverse effects." Now what could be wrong with this study?

The main problem with the study is the amount of bread they gave the participants. You see, 240 grams of whole-grain bread is a lot! A slice of rye bread typically contains about 25 grams of carbohydrate. To get to 240 grams, you would have to eat in excess of nine pieces of bread and about 1,000 calories per day. So I don’t think for most people this is going to be an option. That said, perhaps just switching from your regular bread to whole-grain rye would be enough to have a significant effect. Oh, and one last thing.

The probiotics had no effect in this study. Probiotics can help improve your colon health, but they probably won’t help severe constipation.

Yours for better health,

REF: Holma R, Hongisto SM, Saxelin M, Korpela R. Constipation is relieved more by rye bread than wheat bread or laxatives without increased adverse gastrointestinal effects. J Nutr. 2010 Mar;140(3):534-41

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