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Can Gluten Cause Constipation?

In today’s world, dietary preferences and sensitivities are increasingly in the spotlight. Gluten intolerance and Celiac have emerged as common and often misunderstood conditions. For those who deal with gluten sensitivity, they know that with gluten intolerance comes more than just mild discomfort. There is a massive array of gluten related symptoms that disrupt the flow of everyday life. A common symptom associated with gluten intolerance is constipation. In this article we will address gluten and constipation and offer guidance on how to manage this condition for a healthier, more comfortable lifestyle.

What is gluten?

Gluten is the protein in grains that lends elasticity to bread and other baked goods. Gluten is often associated with wheat, rye, and barley. However, we know that gluten proteins can be found in ALL grains. Common foods containing gluten include pasta, bread, baked goods, and beer, as well as many sauces, condiments, and marinades.

For those with celiac disease, gluten can be incredibly harmful. Gluten can trigger an immune reaction causing inflammation in the intestines, which can result in a host of other health issues.

What is gluten sensitivity?

There are many people who have tested negative for celiac disease but experience symptoms from the ingestion of gluten or face a number of health issues including autoimmune diseases. These people are believed to have non celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), a condition that has been suggested to affect up to 6% of the United States population.

Although commonly thought to be less of a problem than celiac, NCGS can trigger immune reactions that in some cases are just as troubling. For an in depth breakdown on the differences between celiac disease and NCGS, watch our free Glutenology© Masterclass here.

Can gluten cause constipation? 

For some individuals, consumption of gluten doesn’t result in any acute adverse gastrointestinal issues. However, for many people, the ingestion of gluten can trigger a range of symptoms. One of the most common is constipation.

There are several mechanisms through which gluten or grains might induce constipation: 

  1. Celiac Disease:  Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by a reaction to ingested gluten in genetically predisposed individuals. The immune response to gluten damages the villi of the small intestine, leading to malabsorption of nutrients. This malabsorption and resultant inflammation can impact bowel motility and lead to constipation. In addition, mucosal damage to the intestines may affect gut motility in untreated celiac disease through perturbation of hormonal and neuro-immunomodulatory regulation. 
  2. Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: This is a condition where individuals experience symptoms similar to those of celiac disease after consuming gluten, but without the autoimmune response occurring in the intestinal lining. The exact mechanism is not entirely understood, but an altered gut microbiota and low-grade inflammation are believed to play a role. These changes in gut motility may result in constipation. One such example includes a case study of a 62-year-old male with long standing constipation without any underlying cause. He did not respond to any conservative treatment but did experience a significant relief of constipation when he adopted a gluten free diet. Research has also tied gluten sensitivity to presenting with clinical symptoms similar to those of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). 
  3. Wheat Allergy: A wheat allergy is different from gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. Wheat is only one type of gluten-containing grain, but an allergic reaction to wheat can also result in gastrointestinal symptoms, including constipation.
  4. FODMAPs: FODMAPS stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. Some individuals are sensitive to these carbohydrates, and they can cause various gastrointestinal symptoms, including constipation, especially in those with IBS. Gluten-containing grains, especially wheat, are high in FODMAPs. However, not all symptoms resulting from wheat consumption are solely due to gluten. The same symptoms could be from the high FODMAP content. Note that a gluten free diet is safe to adopt in the long term, but a low FODMAP diet can be quite restrictive and put a person at risk of missing fiber and micronutrients in their diet.  
  5. Gut Microbiota Alterations: The gut microbiota plays a pivotal role in digestion and stool consistency. Gluten or gluten-containing foods might alter the gut microbiota in some individuals, leading to reduced bowel motility and constipation.
  6. Altered Gut Motility: For some individuals, gluten or its associated components might alter the movement of food through the intestines (known as motility), which can lead to constipation. 
  7. Direct Effects on the Gut: Gluten or other proteins like amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) in wheat can lead to an activation of the innate immune system in the gut, leading to low-level inflammation. This inflammation can potentially result in altered gut function, including constipation.

It’s clear that gluten can induce constipation through a variety of mechanisms, ranging from immune-mediated responses as seen in celiac disease to sensitivities related to fermentable carbohydrates in gluten-containing grains. However, not everyone who consumes gluten will experience these effects, and the precise mechanism that causes constipation may vary by individual. 

Dangers of Constipation

Constipation can be quite uncomfortable, but acute cases of constipation do not typically cause any severe complications or long-term health problems. However, long-term or chronic constipation can result in some complications, listed below:

Rectal bleeding

Continually straining to pass stools can be painful and uncomfortable, but it can also lead to rectal bleeding. Bleeding can result from a small tear around the anus (called an anal fissure), or by hemorrhoids, which are swollen blood vessels that form in the lower rectum and anus.

In addition to bleeding, hemorrhoids can also cause pain, itching around the anus, and swelling of the anus. While creams and ointments are available to treat the uncomfortable symptoms of hemorrhoids, it is important to not just treat the symptoms of constipation so that you don’t mask the underlying condition that is leading to the constipation. 

Fecal impaction

When you are not regularly emptying your bowels, as in the case of chronic constipation, dried, hard stools can collect in your rectum and anus and increase the risk of a condition called fecal impaction. Unfortunately, fecal impaction makes constipation worse because it’s harder for stools and waste products to pass out of your anus, as the path is obstructed. This can turn into a vicious cycle that can require medical attention to release the stools from the body.

Fecal impaction may also lead to a range of other complications, including:

  • swelling of the rectum
  • a loss of sensation in and around the anus
  • bowel incontinence (an inability to control bowels, resulting in involuntary bowel movements)
  • bleeding from the anus
  • rectal prolapse (an issue that causes part of the lower intestine to fall out of place and protrude from the anus; this can also occur as a result of repeated straining in people with chronic constipation)

Managing gluten-induced constipation

So how can you manage and relieve gluten-induced constipation? The following sections provide some suggestions.

Eliminate gluten

Because celiac disease often manifests as chronic diarrhea, many are unaware that gluten is a major contributor to constipation. But as we’ve established, gluten can cause abnormal bowel function in multiple ways – immune response and inflammation in the gut, damage to the nerves that regulate peristaltic motion in the GI tract, changes to the healthy bacterial flora in the intestine, and more.

Limit processed foods

Many processed foods contain refined sugar, hydrogenated fats, artificial colors and flavors, and more. These can all contribute to imbalances in the gut as well as constipation. 

Consider the effect of dairy

Dairy products can cause excessive mucus production in the GI tract. This process can slow down bowel movements. Today’s highly processed milk and milk byproducts also contain a form of casein (dairy protein) that can mimic the effects of gluten.

Introduce movement

Body motion is vital to good health. When we walk, run, jump, and move, our spine, sacrum, and hips move synchronously. This pumping action supports adequate bowel motility. Lack of exercise is a very common cause of persistent constipation.

Check your medications

Some of the most commonly prescribed and over-the-counter medications can cause constipation. These include:

  • Pain medications (especially narcotics)
  • Antacids (heartburn medications)
  • Blood pressure medications (calcium channel blockers)
  • Antiparkinson drugs
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Antidepressants
  • Iron supplements
  • Diuretics
  • Anticonvulsants (seizure medications)

Consider your caffeine intake

Coffee, tea, energy drinks, and chocolate are common sources of caffeine. Caffeine can create long term bowel dysfunction. Not only can excess caffeine cause dehydration that leads to reduced bowel function, this chemical can also inhibit the nerves that stimulate proper bowel flow. If you are dealing with constipation, consider removing caffeinated beverages from your 

Increase your fiber

Oftentimes, doctors recommend more fiber in the diet to fight constipation. The problem is that the recommendations are to eat more whole grain or to take fiber supplements that are harsh on digestion and cross contaminated with gluten. 

We recommend increasing your fiber intake naturally through fresh vegetables and fruits, plus nuts and seeds. Whole food fiber provides important micronutrients and also supports healthy bowel movements.


Inadequate water intake is a chronic problem for the average person. Most consume too much caffeine (causing water depletion). Much of our daily water needs comes from vegetables (see above). Incorporating foods that contain water reduces the need to drink excessive amounts of water. Remember that water helps regulate bowel movement and electrolyte balance. Deficiency is a major contributing factor for those suffering with constipation.

Gluten free supplements

Not all supplements are created equal. Many supplements use poor nutrient forms that are not well absorbed. In addition, many supplements (yes, even many premium or practitioner grade supplements) are cross contaminated with gluten. Therefore, it is critical to find a reputable company that specializes in providing gluten free supplements and that is committed to testing its ingredients and final products for gluten. Below is a list of trusted certified gluten free supplements that can support your body through celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and constipation.


Research has suggested that dietary fiber intake can increase stool frequency in patients with constipation. Ultra Fiber is a complete fiber supplement that contains a combination of fibers derived from whole seeds, fruits, vegetables and roots. It is designed to support the health of the microbiome and may help alleviate constipation. 


A number of studies have confirmed the relationship between constipation and the composition of the gut microbiota. Additionally, many other studies have confirmed the efficacy of probiotics for the relief of constipation symptoms. 

Biotic Defense includes 10 strains of bacteria, totaling 50 billion CFU’s per capsule. The strains in this probiotic were selected to support those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, and encourage healthy and timely elimination by acting as a natural stool softener, further encouraging a more complete digestion.


Butyrate is the primary fuel source for the cells of the large intestine, and it has been shown to play important roles in maintaining the gut barrier, modulating inflammation, and aids in proper gut motility. This “post-biotic” can be especially beneficial for individuals dealing with less than ideal gastrointestinal function.

One study observed a statistically significant reduction in pain during defecation in patients who received microencapsulated sodium butyrate 

GI Restore

GI Restore is an all natural formula designed specifically to support restoration of bowel function. 

Diagnosing gluten sensitivity/intolerance

We understand that navigating the complexities of a gluten free lifestyle can feel overwhelming, so we at Gluten Free Society share a wealth of free information that includes the latest research, helpful tips and recipes, and answers to the questions that so many people have when on the gluten free journey. 

For more information on testing and diagnosis, read this article. And if you are uncertain if you have celiac disease, take our gluten sensitivity quiz!


The journey to heal your gut and resolve your constipation might feel daunting, but Gluten Free Society is here to walk you through it every step of the way. The effort will be well worth it to enjoy better health!

One Response

  1. What has not been mentioned here is that an autoimmune disorder called Sjogren’s Syndrome is linked to gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. Sjogren’s syndrome causes dry eyes, dry mouth, dry vagina, and dry intestines causing dry hard stool movements.

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