Chia is the only thing that works?

by (720) Updated August 26, 2013 at 6:08 PM Created June 22, 2012 at 12:21 AM

So I've posted before about my gut issues, (essentially loose stool every single day) and got various responses.
Been paleo for over a year and no improvement in my gut at all, in fact it's worse, so I've tried the obvious remedies..probiotics, digestive enzymes, cutting out fruit, lowering fats, adding sweet potatoes, eliminating wine, drinking more water, drinking less water, bone broth etc., etc., etc...even added back in some grains to see if that made a difference, it didn't. I've had gut issues in the past (was diagnosed with IBS, which I think is BS), but never as consistently bad as when doing paleo. I assumed it was the lack of gluten or grain but it didn't help when I added it back, it was like I had damaged it further since going paleo.

So, I started eating a few teaspoons of chia seeds (soaked) at night and all of a sudden my stool consistency (TMI) is much much better. What the heck? I know it's fibrous, but it's a very little amount, and I was eating a lot of vegetables to begin with so I don't think I was lacking fiber. Anyway, I'm not stopping, even though I've seen some anti chia sentiments on the board. It's a very small amount so I don't feel like I'm overdoing it, but again, why is THIS the cure all? Makes no sense to me, it's not like we need it for survival and it's not like any paleolithic people ever ate it. Maybe I just have a lame gut, but still I'm kind of mystified and kind of annoyed at the prospect of having to eat chia seeds for the rest of my life...I'll need to travel around with a pill box full of chia...

Anyone have any opinion or have experienced this themselves?

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9 Replies

4395 · June 22, 2012 at 2:34 AM

Lauren perhaps you want to rule out any parasites or bacteria in your gut. Would be worth it given the long standing loose stools. Bugs can linger a long time in the GI tract. Would look at what is there that shouldn't be and what is missing (level of probiotics and some digestive markers too) Genova makes a good one. Genova Diagnostics is very good.
Genova Diagnostics Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis www.gdx.net/

18794 · June 22, 2012 at 4:54 PM

It sounds like you are doing well with soluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps to keep an even amount of water in the stool, so that as it passes through the colon and out that it does so smoothly. One job of the lower intestine is to draw water back into the body from the stool. Soluble fiber helps to keep balance between the drying effect of the intestines and the stool moisture level.

Insoluble fiber is important in it's own way, but CW has people over-focused on it (imho). Sometimes, if one has egregious IBS, too much insoluble fiber (i.e. roughage) can often worsen symptoms.

Chia seeds definitely have some hard, fibrous material that may aggravate IBS, but when put in some water, you'll notice it turns gunky. You may want to mill the chia seeds in a mortar&pestle before using. If your IBS is terrible, consider avoiding psyllium husks -- while they have great soluble fiber for those that need extra, they do tend to aggravate IBS for some. Insoluble fiber will just bulk the stool -- it will not necessarily make it easier to pass.

I no longer use supplemental fiber, but I am a strong advocate for using it to help one get back to normal. In a dietary sense, chia might not be the best thing out there (being a seed), but frankly, I wouldn't worry about that too much -- if it's helping you get better, that is what counts. Remember to eat well and not overdo it with the insoluble fiber.

10 · August 26, 2013 at 6:08 PM

I have suffered with IBS and digestive orders for years. I could go 3-4 weeks without a BM and chronic constipation and foul smelling gas. I was reading one day and came across the benefits of chia seeds so I decided to give them a try. I must admit that I am so happy with results after only 2 weeks of taking them daily. I no longer have to take a laxative to have a BM, but I noticed a burst in energy, hydration, and normal bulk BM's 2-3 times a day. The chia seeds seemed to have regulated my movements. Not to mention that they have many other benefits and they are an excellent source of protein and omega 3. These tiny little seeds pack a powerful punch and is a wonderful super-food. I have also noticed parasites dispelled in the fecal matter, due to the constant moving of the colon. These things work way better than flax to me and they literally sweep the colon walls. No runny stools and no stomach cramps. My BM's are also no longer foul smelling like they were. I add then to all of my drinks, let them gel and drink them down. The chia seeds do start to gel after 10 minutes and they take on whatever flavor they are added to. The only thing is that you must drink lots of water because it is fiber. I will be on chia seeds for the rest of my life.

10 · April 27, 2013 at 11:23 PM

The main reason that things like Chia and Flax and Psyllium benefit people with digestive disorders of any kind is because they produce mucilage, and a lot of it. Instead of mucilage, think "snot". This non-digestible slime coats the mucous membranes in your gut, providing a layer of smooth gel between your intestine's nerve endings and irritants.

It's basically like putting a temporary condom on the inside of your intestinal tubes.

6218 · June 22, 2012 at 6:39 PM

Great article http://chriskresser.com/myths-and-truths-about-fiber For decades, fiber has been touted as an essential component of a healthy diet. The supposed benefits of a high-fiber diet have been drilled into us through recommendations by our doctors, government, and the food industry alike, yet many of these health claims have not been proven by research. In fact, many studies have demonstrated that excess intake of fiber may actually be harmful, particularly for gut health.

The majority of the research supporting the benefits of dietary fiber come from epidemiological studies that link the consumption of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables with a lowered risk of certain diseases such as obesity, heart disease and cancer, particularly colon cancer. (1) Yet when tested in the lab, controlled intervention trials that simply add fiber supplements to an otherwise consistent diet have not shown these protective effects. (2) (3) (4)

The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily fiber intake of 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women (5), which may come from dietary fibers, both soluble or insoluble, or the addition of “functional fibers” to the diet. The IOM defines functional fibers as non-digestible carbohydrates that have been isolated or extracted from a natural plant or animal source, or they may be manufactured or synthesized. Examples of functional fibers are psyllium husks, chitin from crustacean shells, fructooligosaccharides, polydextrose, and resistant dextrins. (6)

These functional fibers are often added to processed foods as a way to bulk up the fiber content for consumers looking to meet the IOM intake guidelines. A recent report by NPR commented that despite the lack of significant evidence linking fiber intake to health outcomes such as reduced heart disease or cancer, many consumers are buying foods that are fortified with synthetic fiber additives under the guise of health promotion. (7) Three grams of added fiber is enough to allow these food products to claim to be a good source of fiber, and the food industry has used these fiber guidelines as a way to increase their sales of grain-based products in particular. (8)

Tan and Seow-Choen, in their 2007 editorial on fiber and colorectal disease, call insoluble fiber “the ultimate junk food”, as “it is neither digestible nor absorbable and therefore devoid of nutrition.” (9) Excess insoluble fiber can bind to minerals such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron, preventing the absorption of these vital nutrients. (10) Large excesses of certain soluble fibers like pectin and guar may also inhibit pancreatic enzyme activity and protein digestion in the gut, leading to an anti-nutritive effect. (11)

The addition of insoluble and soluble fibers to processed foods may actually cause these foods to be even less nutritious than if they were not enriched with any fiber at all.

A high-fiber diet has also been described as a preventative strategy for the development of diverticulosis, a disease that is markedly more common in Western countries. However, when researchers tested the theory that a high-fiber diet prevented diverticulosis, they not only found that a high intake of fiber did not reduce the prevalence of diverticulosis, but that a high-fiber diet and greater number of bowel movements were independently associated with a higher prevalence of diverticula. (12) Interestingly, this study found no association between the presence of diverticulosis and red meat intake, fat intake, or physical activity, which are other factors commonly attributed to diverticulosis.

The researchers hypothesized that one possible effect of a high-fiber diet in the development of diverticulosis could be the quantitative and qualitative changes in gut bacteria due to the excessive fiber intake. Both insoluble and soluble fibers are shown to alter gut bacteria in as little as two weeks. (13) It is possible that the high levels of excess fiber and overgrowth of intestinal bacteria may have contributed to the development of diverticular pouches in the colon.

This hypothesis brings up another side to the fiber debate: the effect of dietary fiber on beneficial gut bacteria, as well as the bacterial fermentation of undigested soluble fiber into short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate. When we eat the soluble fibers found in whole plant foods, the bacteria in our gut ferment these fibers into short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, proprionate, and acetate, and greater amounts of fiber consumed will lead to greater short-chain fatty acid production. (14) In this case, naturally occurring soluble fibers are very important for feeding the friendly bacteria that live in our guts.

One of the risks of long term very low-carbohydrate (VLC) diets, in my view, is the potentially harmful effect they can have on beneficial gut flora. VLC diets starve both bad and good gut bacteria, which means these diets can have therapeutic effects on gut infections in the short term, but may actually contribute to insufficiency of beneficial strains of gut bacteria over the long term. Providing adequate levels of carbohydrate and soluble fiber to feed friendly bacteria is important for optimizing digestive health and maintaining the integrity of the gut lining through the production of short-chain fatty acids.

Stephan Guyenet has written an excellent blog post describing the benefits of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids on the maintenance of healthy gut integrity. (15) Butyrate has anti-inflammatory effects, increases insulin sensitivity, and may delay the development of neurodegenerative diseases. It may also be helpful in the treatment of diseases of the colon such as Crohn’s, IBS or ulcerative colitis. (16)

Stephan believes that butyrate may play a significant role in healthy metabolic function, stress resistance, and the immune response. He also asserts that the epidemiologically observed benefits of a diet high in naturally occurring fiber are likely due to the higher butyrate production from these diets. In this case, a higher fiber diet could be protective and beneficial for health, particularly if the fiber is soluble.

So what does this mean for our own consumption of fiber?

Ideally, dietary fiber should be coming from whole food plant sources. Many foods in the Paleo diet are great sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber, such as yams and sweet potatoes, green leafy vegetables, carrots and other root vegetables, fruits with an edible peel (like apples and pears), berries, seeds, and nuts. Interestingly, butyrate itself is also found in high-fat dairy products such as butter and cheese, and can also be provided by the bacteria found in fermented foods. (17)

Although I recommend that most people get fiber from whole foods, there are some people that may benefit from soluble fiber supplementation – including those that aren’t able to eat fruit or starch due to blood sugar issues or weight regulation, and those with severely compromised gut flora or gut dysbiosis. In these cases I’ve found soluble fiber and/or prebiotic supplements to be helpful.

For healthy people, including a variety of fibrous whole plant foods, fermented foods, and high-fat dairy as tolerated should eliminate the need to supplement with extra fiber, especially those insoluble fibers that are from sources high in anti-nutrients. A Paleo diet with some level of attention paid to the quality and quantity of vegetables, fruits, and starchy tubers can provide adequate levels of soluble fiber to feed the friendly bacteria in the gut that convert these fibers into beneficial short-chain fats like butyrate.

Recommended supplements if needed:

Prebiotic: Klaire Labs Biotagen

Soluble fiber: Organic Acacia Fiber

Caution: it’s crucial to start with a very low dose of prebiotic or soluble fiber and build up slowly over time. This will minimize any potential adverse reaction that can occur with significant changes (even positive changes) to the gut microbiome. For Biotagen, start with 1/4 of 1/8 of a tsp (1/32 tsp.) and increase by 1/32 of a tsp every 4-5 days. For Organic Acacia Fiber, start with 1/4 of a tsp. once per day and build slowly from there.

4395 · June 23, 2012 at 2:43 AM

Lauren I left this in comments but I want to make sure you get it in case you dont' check back (in the comments) - I advise you to restate your Question and state that you are pregnant (Tag the word).

I am virtually certain you can take probiotics when you are pregnant and if you are low in GI healthy bacteria, it will be important for you and your baby. Of course, you need to talk to you own care providers but restating this Question and using pregnancy as a key word will likely get you some very good advice from Dragonfly and others.

YOu can still get a stool test when you are pregnant. All the best to you and babe.

1612 · June 22, 2012 at 6:55 PM

Chia seeds are called " Muciloids " or something along those lines. They help to lubricate intestines and definitely help with bowel movements. I'm not sure the exact reason why but they definitely give me the same positive effect. I see no reason not to use them to your benefit.

505 · June 22, 2012 at 5:10 PM

I had a similar experience, and got a prescription for an anti-fungal for candida overgrowth. After 30 days on that, bam, great stools! Had diarrhea daily before, despite several months paleo. You should look into candida and parasites.

4888 · June 22, 2012 at 6:39 AM

Lauren, I've had this for 2.5 years - and tried all sorts. Latest is goat milk kefir - about 5 days - and there seems to be improvements. I've got a sauerkraut crock on the way now, so will be adding kraut too.

But I am intrigued by the chia seeds - I shall give them a go too. I honestly wouldn't mind having to take them for the rest of my life - better than medication! How long do you soak them?

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