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"It is more important in cases of constipation to restore normal nerve energy than to add bulk to the diet."
by Dr. Herbert Shelton
THE ALIMENTARY CANAL
Man's alimentary canal is a long, hollow tube beginning with the oral cavity (mouth) and extending through the esophagus, gastric cavity (stomach), small intestines, and large intestine (colon), to the anus. It is not inert, but incorporates in its walls a large number of physiologically active structures, including glands, muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. In its healthy state its actions are so well ordered that the processes that go on therein, from the moment we begin to eat to the point at which we void food residues, should be easy and spontaneous. There should be no distress, discomfort or unusual effort.
Indeed, all processes of highly organized activity are spontaneous and should not intrude themselves upon consciousness. There are only two points at which we may exert some direct conscious control: namely, in the mouth when we chew and swallow, and at the lower end of the rectum when we expel the residue.
Two circular muscles, the internal and external sphincters located at the lower end of the rectum, normally control bowel evacuations. Voluntary control of the sphincters is developed during early childhood and should be retained throughout life. Involuntary voiding may occur thereafter, however, as a result of sudden fright, strong purgation, and disease of the bowels or nervous system. The changes of senility may also weaken voluntary control.
Primitive man did not know nor need to know anything about the functions of his alimentary tract. These functions were so efficient due to his natural way of life that he had but to take care of two conscious processeseating and voidingand leave the rest to the unconscious or subconscious activities of the body. With all his assumed superiority over his primitive forebears, modern civilized man suffers discomfort and distress in his digestive tract, frequently complaining of constipation, diarrhea and hemorrhoids. It is common to say that these symptoms result from his failure to adapt himself to his modern environment; it is probably more correct to believe that they are the result of his failure to shape his environment to meet his basic needs.
When the small intestine, which averages about 22 feet in length, and the colon, which averages five to six feet in length, are not actively engaged in handling food, their muscles, glands, and nerves should be quiescent and the blood supply to these parts reduced. The entrance of food from the stomach occasions the secretion of such substances as bile, pancreatic juice, intestinal juice, and lubricating mucous, together with an increase in blood supply.
It also occasions strong waves of rhythmic muscular contractions, which we call peristalsismovements which mix the food with digestive juices and their enzymes and propel it along the intestinal canal. To assure efficient control of this start-and-stop mechanism, the intestine is supplied with a double set of nerves. The vagus nerve activates these structures while the sympathetic nerves inhibit their activities.
This short description of the activities of the intestine and colon in handling foodstuffs will provide a general idea of the whole complex process which, in health, is so wonderfully and ingeniously regulated that it is carried on without our awareness. As the bolus of undigested food and indigestible portions of food reaches the rectum, a reflex urge to evacuate the bowels (defecation) notifies us that there is need for movement.
OUR FIRST NATIONAL DISEASE
This should be the first consciousness of the existence of food in the digestive tract. The movement should be free, easy and pleasurable. It should be devoid of discomfort and distress. Pain, sluggishness, straining, and bleeding at stool are evidences that something is wrong. The condition known as constipation has well been termed our first national disease. It seems to become more prevalent as man departs more and more from his natural way of life.
The modern diet of civilized man, which is largely processed and refined, is robbed of essential nutritive value and natural bulk, contributing largely to constipation. As man's food becomes progressively more refined and less valuable as nutrient, constipation becomes more marked. The evolution of modern machinery has largely deprived man of the necessity for physical activity, so that he tends to become indolent, lazy and deformed (stooped). This also produces constipation. An enervating mode of life reduces nerve energy and lessens functioning power. Constipation is often the first visible evidence of waning power.
True to tradition, instead of seeking and removing the causes responsible for constipation, man seeks to secure relief from his discomfort and distress by taking something. Instead of restoring normal function to his bowels, he tries to force the bowels to act. In some areas and in some sections, laxatives and purgatives are regular features of life from early childhood onward. This practice leads almost certainly to a state of chronic constipation. The more violent the bowel action occasioned by a drug, the more injury done to the digestive tract.
It is important for us to know that when we take drugs to provoke bowel action, the entire digestive tract, and not merely the colon, is involved. The whole digestive process is interfered with and undigested food sent pall-mall into the colon for evacuation.
Some preparations like mineral oil, olive oil and so-called medicinal paraffin are intended to lubricate the intestine and colon to enable the food bolus to pass more easily. But these structures supply their own lubrication and need none from without. Oily substances tend to prevent normal absorption of food, and dissolve fat-soluble vitamins, which are then passed out in the stools. This causes an insidious form of malnutrition, which may lead to abnormal conditions, such as anemia. Lubricants lead to the development of a lazy, enervated and flaccid colon.
Some so-called laxatives occasion irritation in the digestive tract, giving rise to violent bowel action. The effect of such
laxatives and purgatives is a weakened intestine, flaccid colon, and, eventually, inflamed and damaged intestinal linings. The habitual use of such substances may easily lead to ptosis, ulceration, and even cancer.
3. EATING BULK FOODS
A third means of inducing bowel action consists in eating such substances as wheat bran, agar-agar, psyllium seed and similar forms of bulk to compensate for the natural bulk removed in the refining process. While this method of inducing bowel action succeeds for a time, it does not correct the diet. It provides bulk, but not the minerals and vitamins removed from natural food.
Sylvester Graham stressed the importance of bulk in promoting more efficient activity of the alimentary canal, as well as better bowel action. But there has been a tendency to overstress this feature and provide too much bulk. The in-nutritious portions of food are, as a rule, not disproportionately great. However, they constitute all the bulk required for healthy action of the digestive tract, assuming these portions are not removed by milling and refining processes.
More important to good bowel action than bulk is normal nerve capacity. The person with normal nerve energy will have normal bowel action on a diet of bananas for instance, which contain almost no bulk. The enervated individual may be constipated in spite of excessive bulk. It is more important in cases of constipation to restore normal nerve energy than to add bulk to the diet.
Among those who seek to avoid the use of drugs, the enema and colonic irrigation are very popular. Our first criticism of these practices is that they do not remove or correct the cause or causes of constipation. By encouraging the individual to resort to the enema or irrigation, we encourage him to ignore causes.
It should be known that normal peristalsis depends on good health; good health does not stem from peristalsis. Taking large quantities of water into the colon, whether by enema or by irrigation, distends it, leaves it dry and enervated and causes constipation to become chronic. Any method of forcing bowel action may add to constipation.
All of these habitsthe laxative habit, the bulk habit, the enema habitand the fallacies that give rise to them tend to produce deep-seated anxieties about function of the bowels. Such anxiety may itself cause functional disturbances, which, in many cases, may result in colitis or diarrhea alternating with constipation. Or, in other cases, the emotional stress thus occasioned may cause spasticity of the colon.
Instead of providing more work for an already enervated colon by these methods, we would get better results by giving the digestive tract, including the colon, a rest. If, instead of filling our digestive tract with bulk, we provided it with natural food containing needed bulk and essential nutrients, we could assure normal bowel function. Better nutrients, as here suggested, provide more adequate nourishment of the whole organism, hence better function of the body.
Instead of forcing bowel function we could all profit from the advice of that grand old Hygienist of Boston, Dr. Charles B. Page: "Mind your own business, and let the bowels mind theirs." By this he simply means that we should take care of our part of the normal living processes and let the subconscious and unconscious activities of the body do their own work in their own way. In numerous cases, we have found that all that is needed to end constipation is to cease efforts to cure it.
Constipation cures, like all the other cures, tend to produce the very trouble they are intended to cure, just as sleep-inducing drugs occasion sleeplessness and coffee-drinking causes the headache that it tries to relieve.
Herbert M. Shelton, Health For The Millions
Herbert M. Shelton wrote more than 40 books, published the Hygienic Review monthly and operated his famous Dr. Shelton's Health School in San Antonio,Texas. He was the co-founder of the American Natural Hygiene Society.
"In numerous cases, we have found that all that is needed to end constipation is to cease efforts to cure it."
FROM INHS EMAIL LIST DISCUSSION
QUOTE: "A Prime Example:
When your digestive tract is not functioning properly, your body has to make
room to accommodate that growing pile of putrefied waste, which can harden
and cause your colon to significantly expand in size to become what is
referred to as a 'mega-colon'.
Elvis Presley was known to have battled congenital colon problems
(congenitally twisted ganglionic fold in his intestine) for years and ended
up extremely overweight. After his sudden death in 1977, four medical
examiner doctors performed an autopsy on Elvis. According to an account
based on their report, they noted that sections of his large intestine
ranged from 3 ½ to 5" in diameter! (A normal colon for someone Elvis's size
is about 2").
As the medical examiners continued dissecting his colon, they found that
the mega-colon was jam-packed from the base of the descending colon all
the way up and halfway across the transverse colon. It was filled with
'white, chaulk-like fecal matter"
." The impaction "had the consistency of
clay and seemed to defy the doctors' efforts with the scissors to cut it out
The doctors believed that Elvis must have suffered discomfort from that fecal impaction as the fecal material would have caused the colon to stretch as it worked its way through. His diet of cooked food, his congenital colon problem, and his overuse of laxatives and prescription drugs were large contributing factors. These factors have the concomitant effect of slowing down the digestive system."
Read more articles by Dr. Shelton: