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From hemorrhoids to hepatitis, the eat like a caveman or paleo diet can offer uncommon relief. Here are seven common digestive complaints that are helped by pursuing an extremely natural, whole foods based diet.

The archetypal cave dwellers Og and his wife Oola may have had to flee saber toothed tigers and could have been wary of being stomped by mastodons, but chances are they didn't suffer irritable bowel syndrome, hepatitis C, or acid reflux. Pursuing a paleolithic diet may not cure these problems, but it often can help.

Here are the how and why for using paleo to relieve 10 common digestive complaints.

1. Acid reflux.

Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, involves the unpleasant experience of burning stomach acid coming up from the stomach into the throat and mouth. Even a little leakage that doesn't cause burning can result in chronic laryngitis and erosion of tooth enamel

Chances are that in the distant past, acid reflux was a relatively rare event, for a very simple reason. Most of the time our ancient ancestors would not have enough food to fill up their stomachs. If you simply eat less, or, like ancient people, nothing at all for a period of at least a few hours (overnight), then the valve at the base of your esophagus isn't stressed by the pressure of a full load of food and all the acid your stomach needs to digest pressing stomach contents upward.

2. Celiac disease.

Celiac disease seems like an obvious candidate for improvement by paleolithic style diets. After all, the disease results from an autoimmune reaction to the gliadin protein in the gluten in wheat, and paleo diets prohibit wheat products. But the reality is, only about 1 in 300 people has full-blown celiac disease, and only about 1 in 10 has some degree of gluten enteropathy, a milder autoimmune reaction to wheat and related grains.  However, just about everyone experiences some degree of inflammation in belly fat triggered by wheat.

This inflammation is controlled by not just 1 or 2 but actually 58 different genes, so different people have very different reactions to wheat and wheat products. So, can you never ever eat wheat again? It's important to know that the inflammatory reactions set off by wheat are aggravated by potatoes, so if you choose to get off your paleo diet to eat one, avoid the other.

3. Constipation.

Everybody knows that fiber relieves constipation, right? Well, wrong. It isn't actually fiber in food that makes us more regular. It is the fatty acids that friendly bacteria make from fiber and share with the colonocytes, the cells lining the colon, that bring elimination back to normal.

If you are on a paleo diet, you won't be eating wheat bran, but nobody should, at least not for relief of constipation. The problem with wheat bran is that it slows down the passage of food from the stomach, so much that acid reflux may result. 

And in any case, the kind of fiber that relieves constipation best is soluble fiber, the kind of fiber found in vegetables.

Eat your veggies, at least 5 servings a day, and you will keep your colon bacteria well fed. They will take care of you and any problems you may have with irregularity.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Frassetto LA, Shi L, Schloetter M, Sebastian A, Remer T. Established dietary estimates of net acid production do not predict measured net acid excretion in patients with Type 2 diabetes on Paleolithic-Hunter-Gatherer-type diets. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Sep. 67(9):899-903. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2013.124. Epub 2013 Jul 17. PMID: 23859996.
  • Ho KS, Tan CY, Mohd Daud MA, Seow-Choen F. Stopping or reducing dietary fiber intake reduces constipation and its associated symptoms. World J Gastroenterol. 2012 Sep 7. 18(33):4593-6. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v18.i33.4593.
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