I am not shy about elimination discussions. Having ulcerative colitis for five years will do that to a person! This disease has made me more familiar with intestines, bowels, and poop than I ever wanted to be. But on the bright side, it has led me to discover invaluable information about how to heal myself!
Irregular Bowels? Don’t reach for the Metamucil!
I’ve always tended toward constipation. Since I was eight years old, doctors have been diligently repeating their “solution” to this issue: “Eat more whole grains with fiber and take this Miralax/Senna tablets/Metamucil/Benefiber as needed.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t know that eating more whole grains is not going to help constipation–if anything, this will increase inflammation and block absorption of nutrients due to the high phytic acid content in grain fiber. I also didn’t realize that these laxitives were actually harming my intestines. For example, muscle-stimulating laxatives like Senna are actually addicting–your bowels become weakened and lazy by relying on the muscle stimulant.
Faithfully, I snacked on prunes, high fiber bread, and fiber fortified cereals. As you can imagine, I felt confused and helpless when this prescribed regimine did nothing to promote regularity. I thought I could force my damaged bowels into submission with a boatload of this undigestible material. In reality, I was irritating my intestines and filling my body with inflammatory foods–certainly not the solution for cooperative poops.
Wait… fiber is bad?!
I’m not saying all fiber is bad, but a high fiber diet, especially when the fiber comes from grains instead of vegetables, is not necessarily conducive to health. A crazy concept, I know. And just like the idea that polyunsaturated fats–not saturated fats–harm the body, this fact may take a bit of getting used to.
1. A high fiber diet throws gut flora out of whack
Consuming high doses of fiber devastates gut flora. According to Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride in The Gut and Psychology Syndrome,
“A diet high in fiber from grains (brans and breakfast cereals in particular) has a profound negative effect on the gut flora, gut health and general body metabolism, predisposing the person to IBS, bowel cancer, nutritional deficiencies, and many other problems. Fruit and vegetables provide a much better quality fiber that is not as harsh on the digestive system.”
2. Low stomach acid + high fiber = problem
Did you know more than 90% of Americans have low stomach acid? “Wait,” you may be thinking, “how is that so when heartburn and indigestion are rampant in our society?” Our stomachs are meant to be an acid tank–a place to digest proteins and disinfect our food. When stomach acid levels drop, food is incompletely digested and this leads to bloating, gas, and heartburn. (Learn about the importance of stomach acid and how to raise stomach acid naturally.)
Grain fiber contains large amounts of phytic acid, a compound which “locks” onto minerals like zinc, copper, iron and calcium. Traditional cultures practiced fermenting or soaking their grains to reduce the phytic acid and thereby making consumed minerals bioavailable. Of course, modern grain products, such as bread and cereals, are not properly prepared and contain high amounts of phytic acid.
When stomach acid is optimal, the acid helps to break down the little phytic acid and mineral bundles, rendering some of those previously stolen minerals available to the body. But the body cannot reclaim these nutrients when stomach acid is low. Therefore, by reducing fiber and thereby reducing phytic acid intake, minerals are more efficiently absorbed. (Source)
3. “High fiber” emphasizes quantity, not quality
The media tells us we will be sexy and healthy if we get can only down enough fiber everyday. As a result, many consumers fall prey to suave marketing and are ensnared in the quantity, not quality trap:
Copious amounts of dried prunes, slimy Metamucil, bizarre fiber bars, and fiber-fortified cereals… as long as the fiber is there, many folks don’t care about the quality of the item. Take cereals, for example. Rats fed a diet of vitamins, water and puffed wheat diet within two weeks and autopsy revealed dysfunction of the pancreas, liver and kidneys. Sally Fallon explains the results:
Results like these suggested that there was something actually very toxic in the puffed wheat itself! Proteins are very similar to certain toxins in molecular structure, and the pressure of the puffing process may produce chemical changes, which turn a nutritious grain into a poisonous substance. Source.
Processed cereal is not a nutritious substance. But that fact is oft overlooked when the consumer has the “eat all the fiber!” mindset.
4. High fiber doesn’t fix constipation
Fiber is most commonly applauded as a way to stay regular. The early studies that prompted the high fiber movement found that young, healthy study participants had better bowel movements. The participants were not constipated in the beginning. Current studies show that a high fiber diet may actually exacerbate constipation:
The role of dietary fiber to treat chronic constipation is exaggerated. A low fiber diet has been proven not to be the cause of constipation and the success of fiber intake as treatment is modest. The study reviewed conducted by Voderholzer et al showed that only 20% of slow transit patients benefited from fiber. Further data suggests that while many patients may be helped by a fiber-rich diet, some actually suffer from worse symptoms when increasing their fiber intake. (Source)
5. Health can thrive with very little fiber
The idea that humans require 30 grams of daily fiber for a long and healthy life is complete and utter gobbledygook (I love that word!). Weston A. Price, a 19th century nutrition pioneer, traveled the globe to discover the diets of thriving cultures. Interestingly, one culture in particular thrived on virtually no fiber. This is the Masai tribe, who subsisted on the meat, milk and blood from their cattle. They grew exceptionally tall with well-developed facial bone structure and perfect teeth.
The native Inuit also grew strong and healthy one a primarily animal-based diet of fish, fish eggs, seal oil, caribou. This was supplemented with plant products like kelp, berries and nuts.
More Fiber Facts
Konstantin Monastyrsky’, author of the controversial book The Fiber Menace, shares more unpleasant facts about a high fiber diet on his website Gutsense.org. Here are just a few of the problems he lists with jumping on the fiber bandwagon:
- Upon consumption, fiber produces gas, bloating, and abdominal pain due to the fermentation action of gut bacteria.
- In the long term, it holds more dangerous consequences including constipation (yes–the opposite effect you expect), hemorrhoids, and fissures. It even contributes to the development of autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Further, studies point to the idea that a high fiber diet may increase the risk of developing both diabetes and heart disease. I surmise that this is partly due to the fact that a high fiber diet is high in grain products, which are inflammatory and wreak havoc on blood sugar balance.
- The theory that fiber helps people loose weight by satiating appetite? Also false (according to a study at Tuft’s University). In fact, fiber has the opposite effect and actually increases appetite! Source
Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber
Is all fiber bad? Certainly not! We do need to create a balanced fiber intake, however.
Soluble fiber, the fiber found in fruits and vegetables is much more gentle on the digestive tract. Small amounts of this fiber acts as food for the bacteria – friendly and unfriendly bugs alike – in our digestive tract and is called a prebiotic.
Insoluble fiber carries the problems discussed in this post. It is found in fiber-fortified foods, fiber supplements, and grain products like “whole grain” items, cereals, breads and pastas. The insoluble fiber content as well as other aspects make grains in general a strain on the digestive tract. All grains, but especially high fiber whole grain products, should be strictly limited (or completely avoided).
Here’s the important takeaway point from this whole post: We get all the fiber we need if we enjoy a variety of fresh fruits and veggies. If you have digestion problems, limit raw vegetables and enjoy cooked vegetables in moderation. Fiber supplements and processed whole grain foods do more harm than good.
If not fiber, then what about… you know?
Metamucil and psyllium husk should be out of the question now that we have our fiber facts straightened out. So what about addressing constipation? Believe me, I finally have this figured out! These steps WORK. Here are 5 steps to cure constipation naturally.