a pile of brown stuff

I was eating my muesli & idly flicking through the ‘lifestyle’ insert that comes with the morning paper when I happened on a page of ways to get oneself healthy for summer. Since at the moment my preparation for summer consists of walking the dog every morning & pedalling madly on the exercycle in the evening, I must confess that I wondered if there is a better way.

Alas! It seems one of the ways to a happier healthier me is to have a colon cleanse. (I really should not read these things at breakfast…) It seems that having my large intestine gently flushed with water (I sure hope they use warm water!) will remove ‘stagnant faecal material’, wash away bacteria & bacterial toxins that will otherwise pollute my blood & lymphatic systems, remove parasites, & (by implication) lower my odds of getting colon cancer.

That has got to be good for me, right?

Well, no.

For a start, you just don’t get brown sticky stuff building up on the walls of your large intestine. If this happened then bowel surgeons & those doctors who perform colonoscopies (peering inside your colon & looking for polyps & other possible abnormalities) would be reporting it on a regular basis. And they aren’t.

As for the bacteria – you carry round more bacterial cells in & on your body than there are cells that make up that body. Billions & billions of them. Many live in your gut & make up your normal gut flora; generally they do no harm & may in some cases be involved in useful symbioses. & the gastrointestinal upsets that often accompany high doses of antibiotics show what happens when you disrupt that gut flora. They’re not sitting there quietly poisoning you. As anyone who’s had a tummy bug due to Campylobacter or Salmonella can attest, when you do have bacteria in your system that are busily producing toxic compounds, you’ll know all about it!

Parasites? Presumably we’re talking various intestinal worms here? I suspect that relatively few of us carry a parasite load large enough to cause disease. As for colon cleansing making a difference for those who do… I suppose some of the little critters might be flushed out – but many hang on tight with a variety of hooks & suckers. It would need rather more than a ‘gentle flush’ to have much effect there! For anyone with a serious worm burden, anthelminthic drugs are much more likely than a series of flushes to set things right. (In fact, there’s evidence that some level of parasite load is implicated in immune-system functioning. For example, it seems that in a study where volunteers who suffered from Crohn’s disease were infected with whipworms, the researchers found that in around 3/4 of the patients the Crohn’s went into remission. The parasites gave the overactive immune system something else to focus on.)

I’ll stick to the muesli & walking the dog 🙂

2 thoughts on “a pile of brown stuff”

  • [off-topic!]
    Have you read this:
    Burdening pupils with content a surefire way to make science dull, say teachers
    “SCIENCE teachers have called for a national curriculum that focuses on the doing of science, rather than learning facts, to avoid boring students…”
    It seems to me that this also fits in with an issue we’ve see elsewhere: the teaching of the basis of science.

  • Alison Campbell says:

    Yes, I saw it yesterday. It’s the sort of thing we’ve tried to achieve with the emphasis on ‘nature of science’ in the new NZ curriculum. Although as I’ve said before, the devil will be in the details of just how that’s to be taught… And there really is going to have to be a close look at the content – in biology at least there’s a tendency to keep loading ‘new stuff’ on at the front end without ‘old’ stuff falling off the back to make room for it. We did start to have a talk about thinking about what content was absolutely core to the subject, 2-3 years ago now, but somehow it never went any further.

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