Montreal Gazette - - Books - JOE SCH­WARCZ

I ’m

told I’m full of, ummm, “crap.” And so are most of you. Lit­er­ally. So say the pro­mot­ers of var­i­ous colon cleansers. Ac­tu­ally, they’re not quite so crass; they pre­fer to use gen­tler terms like fe­cal mat­ter, im­pacted waste or “spackle.”

But the mes­sage is clear. Our colons are loaded with a re­pul­sive nox­ious sludge, the re­sult of an im­proper diet and a “toxic” en­vi­ron­ment. This goo sticks to the wall of the colon, boost­ing our body weight. Worse, it re­leases its foul con­tents into our blood, poi­son­ing our en­tire sys­tem. The re­sult? Bloated sick­ies who lack en­ergy and men­tal clar­ity.

The un­named tox­ins cause, we are told, ail­ments rang­ing from asthma, al­ler­gies and prostate prob­lems to can­cer, heart dis­ease and an im­paired sex drive. Luck­ily, there is sal­va­tion in sight. We can sweep the fetid guck out of our colon with one of a myr­iad colon cleansers that com­pete for our at­ten­tion and, of course, for our dol­lars, via ads that pop­u­late ra­dio waves, mag­a­zines and the In­ter­net.

And what spir­ited and imag­i­na­tive ads! One prod­uct claims that we have any­where from six to 40 pounds of waste, fe­ces and undi­gested food stuck in our bod­ies. An­other com­pares the weight of the waste to car­ry­ing a bowl­ing ball in our gut. Then there are ac­counts of fa­mous peo­ple who died and were found to be full of in­testi­nal sludge. John Wayne, de­pend­ing on which prod­uct’s info you’re read­ing, was found to have any­where from 40 to 80 pounds of im­pacted mat­ter in his colon. A curious claim, given that no au­topsy was per­formed on the Duke.

But the most in­spired ads are the ones that pro­vide us with a vis­ual ex­trav­a­ganza of the “mu­coid plaque” that is elim­i­nated by users of colon cleansers. The pic­tures show the re­lieved pa­tient hold­ing the cause of his for­mer mis­ery, a long, gummy look­ing re­pul­sive ex­cre­tion.

This, we’re told, is the toxic guck that had built up in his colon over years be­fore mak­ing a tri­umphant exit, stim­u­lated by the won­drous colon cleanser!

Now let’s get real here. Have pathol­o­gists who have car­ried out thou­sands of au­top­sies seen pounds of goo en­crusted in in­testines? No.

Have colo-rec­tal sur­geons who have op­er­ated on colons thou­sands of times seen such sludge? No. Have ra­di­ol­o­gists who have pe­rused thou­sands of X-rays of the colon noted the buildup of “mu­coid plaque?” No. Why? Be­cause it doesn’t ex­ist.

It was the in­ven­tion of natur­opath Richard An­der­son, who cre­ated Arise and Shine, a pop­u­lar colon cleanser. So what then is the yucky stuff that has emerged from the rear of a happy colon cleanser devo­tee that we see re­volt­ingly dis­played in those pho­tos on the Web? Sup­pos­ing that the pic­tures are not faked, I sus­pect what we are look­ing at is the colon cleanser it­self mak­ing an im­pres­sive ap­pear­ance.

Al­though the spe­cific in­gre­di­ents in th­ese prod­ucts vary, they all con­tain some sort of lax­a­tive, be it a fi­bre blend or an ex­tract of cas­cara sagrada bark, well known to stim­u­late in­testi­nal con­trac­tions.

Clas­sic fi­bres in­clude psyl­lium husk, flax seed, fen­nel seed, slip­pery elm bark, ap­ple pectin and guar gum. All of th­ese can send you run­ning in a hurry. And they are in­deed pre­scribed for that very pur­pose by physi­cians. But prob­lems can arise. Fi­bre ab­sorbs wa­ter in the gut and some­times can swell, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to ex­pel. Usu­ally this is pre­vented by drink­ing lots of wa­ter, which helps flush out the fi­bre be­fore it has a chance to ex­pand and form an in­testi­nal block­age. In rare cases, with just the right (ac­tu­ally wrong) amount of wa­ter con­sumed, the mix­ture of fi­bres can be ex­pelled as a long, stringy, slimy glop.

The like­li­hood of this hap­pen­ing is in­creased if the colon cleanser con­tains ben­tonite clay, some­times in­cluded for its abil­ity to “ab­sorb tox­ins.” Such an im­pres­sive ex­cre­men­tal dis­play would be very rare, and cer­tainly not some­thing that all users should ex­pect, con­trary to what the pro­mot­ers im­ply. And most as­suredly the dis­gust­ing ex­u­date is not any sort of toxic buildup be­ing ex­pelled.

Of course, just be­cause the pounds of in­testi­nal gunk ex­ist only in the slug­gish mind of some quack, we can’t as­sume that prod­ucts that help to evac­u­ate the colon more reg­u­larly have no merit. What we need, though, are not base­less state­ments like “a dirty colon is a breed­ing ground for dis­ease” or tes­ti­mo­ni­als from users about how their bad breath, dizzi­ness, ir­ri­tabil­ity or “brain fog” were re­solved af­ter scrub­bing and buff­ing their colon. How about some ev­i­dence?

You can search the sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture high and low and you will not find any proper con­trolled trial of colon cleansers show­ing they have any health ben­e­fit. How about prob­lems? Pos­si­ble. Back in the early 90s, guar gum, an in­gre­di­ent present is some colonics, was banned in the U.S. from diet prod­ucts. At the time chew­ing gum with added guar gum was a hot seller be­cause it was sup­posed to curb the ap­petite by fill­ing the stom­ach as it ab­sorbed wa­ter. It did, but it also caused esophageal and in­testi­nal block­ages. And yet, there it is to­day in some colon cleansers. One of th­ese ac­tu­ally makes the claim of weight loss as it uses guar gum to “ev­er­cleanse” the pounds and pounds of (nonex­is­tent) “spackle” from the colon. It is not the colon but the ab­surd claim that needs to be cleansed.

While the clean­ing ef­fect of colonics on colons is ques­tion­able, their ef­fect on clean­ing out bank ac­counts is not. A month’s sup­ply needed to “dredge toxic sed­i­ment” can run up to a tidy lit­tle sum. Why not spend the money in­stead on what goes into the colon rather than on what comes out. A diet high in whole grains, fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles is what your colon and the rest of your body re­ally needs.

Granted, your out­put may not be quite as spec­tac­u­lar as the sam­ples seen in those colon cleanser ads but you and your bank ac­count will be health­ier. Of course, if you are a fer­vent be­liever in colon cleans­ing, you will not be de­terred by my ar­gu­ments and will re­main con­vinced that un­like you, I’m full of “crap.”

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