Celiac Disease and Constipation (and how to relieve it)

Celiac disease constipation is a celiac symptom that seems to fly under the radar. So many of us complain of being married to the toilet after gluten exposure. Yet others experience shall I say a temporary “break” in our relationship with the bathroom.

While it’s not as widely known as other digestive issues associated with celiac disease, constipation can be a symptom of celiac.

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Can celiac disease cause constipation?

Before we get into why constipation can happen with celiac disease and what to do about it, we need to understand what celiac is.

Celiac is a serious autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and contaminated foods like oats), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine.

These attacks lead to damage to the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.

This inflammatory response to gluten and related nutrient deficiencies can cause a wide variety of symptoms in people with celiac. From bloating, headaches, constipation, bone health complications, joint pain, infertility, weight gain, weight loss, and more.

This can start at any age, and occur in any body, as long as someone is eating gluten and has the celiac genes. If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems.

Can celiac disease cause constipation?

So can celiac disease cause constipation? Per the Mayo Clinic, constipation is defined as having fewer than 3 bowel movements a week. Basically, if you poop less than 3 times a week, you’re constipated.

And celiac disease can cause constipation. In fact, constipation is one of the 300 known symptoms associated with celiac disease. Other symptoms of celiac include bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, sour stomach, and others.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease Constipation - Tayler Silfverduk, RD - celiac symptoms, coeliac symptoms, coeliac disease symptoms, do I have celiac, do you have celiac, how do I know if I have celiac, gut health, gut problems

What causes celiac disease constipation?​

There are a few things that could cause celiac disease constipation. It could be your diet, lifestyle, or potential exposure to gluten. It’s also important to note, constipation could be completely unrelated to celiac too. Whatever is causing the constipation, in order to manage it for the long-term, you need to make sure you’re getting to the root cause.

Can a Damaged Small Intestine From Celiac Disease Cause Constipation?

You can have constipation with celiac due to the associated small intestinal damage. This is due to the functional capacity of your digestive system being impaired, causing symptoms like constipation and bloating with celiac disease.

The good news is, if your constipation is related to celiac small intestinal damage, it should go away as you heal celiac. If it doesn’t, then you may want to look at other potential causes.

Medical Conditions That Worsen Constipation with Celiac Disease

If you are experiencing constipation with celiac disease that isn’t getting better as you heal, you may want to look at other causes. Other causes like other medical conditions that worsen or cause constipation.

Common conditions that can occur along side celiac disease and trigger constipation include:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome With Constipation (IBS-C)
  • Diverticulitis and Diverticulosis
  • Gastroparesis
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Some medications

If you’re concerned that one of these things are playing a role in your constipation, be sure to bring up these worries with your healthcare team.

Can Eating Gluten-Free Cause Constipation?

Eating  gluten-free could cause celiac constipation. While a gluten-free diet can be rich in fiber, it also be low in it. If your diet is low in fiber, well things can get… get backed up.

A gluten-free diet can be low in fiber because gluten-free alternatives aren’t always as rich in fiber as their gluten-filled versions. Thus, if you’re struggling with constipation, you may want to look at your eating habits.

For example, are you eating a balance of fruits, vegetables, a whole grains? These foods provide essential sources of fiber that help keep your bowel movements regular. You might also consider discussing a fiber supplement with your provider.

On the flip side of things, you can cause constipation with celiac disease if you’re eating too much fiber or you’re not drinking enough water for the amount of fiber you’re consuming on a gluten-free diet. This is because too much fiber can overwhelm your digestive system, causing things to get backed up. Additionally, if you’re not drinking enough water then there isn’t anything to help soften the fiber and stool, causing things to get backed up too.

If you’re struggling with balancing a gluten-free diet to address fiber and other nutrient gaps, this is something I cover in detail in the Celiac Crash Course!

Constipation and Routine Changes

Celiac constipation can also be impacts by overall lifestyle and routine changes. For example, a change in your movement, hydration, or eating routine can all impact the regularity of your poop. Additionally things like travel or changing what you eat can cause constipation with celiac too.

Not getting enough movement for example, can slow down your digestive tract. Movement is essential to GI health because it helps keep blood circulating to your digestive system. As a result, it helps keep your digestive system moving appropriately to prevent anything from backing up.

The same goes for water and fiber, these two essential nutrients are important to add bulk to and lubricate your poop. Thus, if you’re eating routine around these two nutrients changes, you might find yourself constipated. This happens often during travel.

Also, any sudden change in your typical eating pattern can upset things. Are you on vacation? Did you just get back from a weekend on the beach? Have you been extra stressed lately? These things can impact your bowel movements too.

Your Relationship to Food can Cause Constipation

Furthermore, your relationship to food can cause constipation with celiac disease.

For example, if you overthink, worry, or experience stress around food then you could trigger or worsen constipation. This is because the stress response in your body can trigger constipation.

What happens is when you’re stressed, you body takes energy from the rest and digest systems, and directs it towards your extremities in case you need to run or fight. Now you might be thinking: why would it do that, it’s not like I’m in a life or death situation. Except, your body doesn’t know that. It can tell the difference between when you’re fighting for your life or just afraid you’re going to get glutened from  food.

So the redirection of energy from your digestive system to your extremities can slow digestion, potentially causing constipation.

Additionally, your relationship to food can trigger celiac constipation if you’re unable to eat enough due to it. Whether you’re undereating or skipping meals frequently, they both can cause constipation.

Skipping meals can cause constipation because if you’re not eating routinely, your digestive system can slow to save energy. This slowing of your digestive system again, can cause food to sit in it for longer, causing constipation.

Alternatively, if you’re undereating, then your digestive system will slow down to try to save energy and to try to get the most our of the food you are eating. This in turn can cause constipation with celiac disease.

Lastly, you could be worsening or causing constipation if you are in the binge-restrict cycle with celiac disease. This means if you find yourself skipping meals or restricting foods only to overeat at the end of the day, you could be overwhelming your digestive system, causing things to get backed up (AKA constipation).

Ultimately, if you are struggling with constipation with celiac disease and you have yet to heal your relationship with food, then it may be something to consider looking at. Do not underestimate the power of not fearing food, eating enough, and eating routinely.

Can Gluten Cause Celiac Constipation?

Were you exposed to gluten recently? Gluten can cause constipation with celiac disease. There’s a lot of speculation as to why this symptom occurs, but generally it’s attributed to the damage and autoimmune reaction that occurs in the gut.

Focus on eating normally and drinking enough water to help encourage things to go back to normal. (I’ll sometimes even drink coffee to help encourage things).

You might also consider building a Gluten-Exposure Recovery Kit that features things you can easily access when you’re glutened. You can find a list of items that I have in mine here if you need inspiration.

What Helps Celiac Constipation

While you can’t make constipation go away entirely with celiac disease, there are a few things you can try in order to find relief. Things like:

  • Drink enough water: Water is very important when it comes to healthy poop. It helps keeps things…lubricated. The general recommendation for healthy adults is 8 cups a day. However some people need more and some people need less than that. Listen to your body and give it what it needs.
  • Eat fiber rich foods: If you’re looking to improve celiac constipation via your diet, consider slowly adding in more fiber-rich food. Examples of fiber-rich gluten-free foods include: fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole gluten-free grains are all gluten-free fiber-rich options. Make sure you add these foods in slowly. Your body will need time to adjust to the increase in fiber. Also, remember that when you increase your fiber intake, you also need  to increase your water intake. Again, I cover all of this in the Celiac Crash Course if you need help with figuring out how to apply this in your life!
  • Consider supplements and laxatives: If you’re really struggling with celiac constipation, consider supplements and laxatives. If you choose to go this route, make sure to consult your doctor to make sure your selections are safe for you. They can help in selecting appropriate doses and routines to reduce your symptoms.
  • Relax: Stress can wreak havoc on your health and bowel movements. This is because when you’re stressed, energy is directed away from digestion and towards you extremities for survival. Whether you endured a stressful food situation, or you’re just generally stressed, relaxing can help encourage things to move along.
  • Heating pad/compress: A heating pad or compress held to your lower back might help relieve any discomfort you might have there from the back-up. A hot bath or standing in a hot shower could provide similar relief as well.
  • Stomach massage: to relax tension in the abdomen.
  • Get enough sleep and movement: Take a step back and look at your current sleep and movement habits. Are you getting 7-8 hours of sleep? Are you engaging in routine enjoyable activity? Might there be some things you can do to help cope with stressors? These things could help with constipation.
Gluten-Free Laxatives for Constipation - Celiac Disease Constipation Relief - Tayler Silfverduk

Gluten-Free Laxatives for Constipation

If you’re struggling with celiac constipation then you may be considering taking gluten-free laxatives. Please always consult your healthcare provider before taking any medication. Long-term reliance on certain types of laxatives can cause dependency.

If you need help with checking the safety of medications, I cover this in-depth with practice simulations in the Celiac Crash Course.

Some gluten-free laxatives for constipation include:

  • Magnesium Citrate – this form of magnesium can work as a gentle constipation reliever as it’s thought to increase fluid in the small intestine to soften things. This one is by Pure Encapsulations and is certified gluten-free by GFCO!
  • Cabinet Health Stool Softener – Cabinet batch tests their gluten-free medications to ensure they are safe.
  • Target Up&Up Options (a few of them are known to be marked gluten-free)
  • Walgreens off brand products have a few marked gluten-free laxatives and stool products.
  • Colace Clear Stool Softeners Soft Gels – all inactive ingredients are considered gluten-free.
  • Colace Regular Strength Stool Softener – all inactive ingredients are considered gluten-free.
  • Colace -2-in-1 Stool Softener & Stimulant Laxative.This does contain Pregelatinized Starch which could be derived or contain gluten,  but when calling Colace, they reassured me the product was gluten-free. (For more on what to look for when checking medications to be gluten-free, check out the Celiac Crash Course)
  • Senokot Regular Strength – all inactive ingredients are considered gluten-free. It does contain maltodextrin, which could be derived from wheat. But this is one of the ingredients that is always gluten-free regardless of starting material.
  • Senokot Extra Strength – all inactive ingredients are considered gluten-free.
  • Senokot Dietary Supplement Laxative Tea – Marked gluten-free on the website.
  • Miralax products – according to their FAQ on their website, Miralax considers their products to be gluten-free.
  • Ex-lax – exlax is gluten-free based on ingredients. Some people say it’s not gluten-free but ingredients are what matters when it comes to medication. You might worry about cross-contact but remember, cross-contact risk with medications is minimal due to the requirements of preventing active ingredients from mixing.

Some of the links above may be affiliate links. Please always check medications for safety and suitability for yourself. Ingredients and products are subject to change. And always talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement or medication.

In Summary...

Hopefully, this post has provided you some insight on celiac disease constipation. From changes in dietary patterns, hydration habits, movement routines, travel, to gluten exposure, a lot plays into the regularity of a celiacs poop.

If you’re feeling stuck with constipation, and you can’t figure out what’s causing it, consider seeking help from a specialist. I personally have helped many clients find relief from lingering constipation after diagnosis. You can learn more about working me, a celiac dietitian, here.

If you’re concerned about the symptoms you’re experiencing (including constipation), speak with your doctor (or dietitian) who specializes in GI disorders like celiac disease. This post, nor any post on my website (Tayler.Silfverduk.us) is meant to take the place of individualized medical care.

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