Many of the tenets of holistic medical practices from years ago are finding their way into regular medicine and in the long run the public can only benefit. I am old enough to remember some of the acrimonious dialogue between different groups of physicians. That was when the role of cholesterol in cardiovascular disease was suggested and hotly contested. So although we have come a long way, we are still bringing things from our whole person medicine’s past. Holistic is far from being a new field. Today we are finding many of the precepts still valid as they are being “rediscovered.”
All this of course is by way of leading you into another aspect of medicine which has never entirely passed away, and even now is being rediscovered.
In 1981 a news article appeared in the Daily News which cited some data from medical researchers in San Francisco. Their university was studying the fluid taken from the breasts of some 1,481 females. In part the article stated: “The study revived a turn of-the-century idea that toxic substances produced in the bowel can have damaging health effects. The study indicated that those who were severely constipated tended to have abnormal cells in the fluid extracted. It was further stated that such cells may indicate an increased rate for developing breast cancer. The cellular abnormalities occurred five times as often in women who moved their bowels fewer than three times a week than those who did so more than once a day.”
Around the turn of the century and before, emphasis was placed on good eliminative practices to insure optimum health. Children were taught about good bowel habits and the parents followed through and kept tabs on their youngsters. Mothers and grandmothers even a couple of generations ‘back were aware of the problems which accrue from poor elimination. Any child who became ill in those halcyon days and who did not have a tummy ache was sure to be dosed with something or other to make sure the digestive system was properly functioning.
Who among my generation can fail to remember the ugly taste of a good dose of castor oil … Good? Younger children usually got Castoria which was fairly easy to take, but you knew you had arrived when the castor oil bottle came out. You could mix it with anything and it still tasted bad. I always wondered how it could be that adults always took other things, but the kids got castor oil. Whenever we protested we were told how lucky we were. When our parents were young, they had to take Black Drought.
Enemas were also frequently resorted to in the home at the first sign of anything resembling a childhood disease or other illnesses. More than one “little shaver” had to fight back the urge to run away and join the circus when he felt ill because he knew what was coming. In those days there were few attempts to fake an illness in order to stay home from school. You knew your parents, and if they “bought your story,” out would come the castor oil bottle, the enema bag or both! Enemas were also frequently employed in the doctor’s office as well as at home and in the hospital. More advanced clinics of the day (and a few today) which could be truly called holistic used colon therapy or colon lavage which were promptly dubbed “high colonics.”
Many years ago a great deal of work was done on autointoxication from intestinal putrefaction by a number of researchers. Metchnikoff of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, a researcher on longevity was one. His early studies showed that stasis putrefaction shortens life and causes early senility. He experimented on various forms of acid producing bacteria in the gut. Dr. Paul Gyorgy of the Institute of Nutrition, Academy of Medical Sciences of the U.S.S.R., the discoverer of vitamin B6, was another who spent time working with acidophilic cultures. Another pioneer was Dr. John Harvey Kellog of the Battle Creek Hospital and Sanitorium. Battle Creek was totally holistic and well known. A place which stressed good nutrition, good elimination, proper diet, and bacterial flora. These subjects were researched and the knowledge gained was applied. Many ideas developed were way ahead of their time. The story has been told that Dr. Daniel DeFoe, the physician who delivered the famous Dionne Quintuplets in Canada, telephoned Dr. Kellog at the Battle Creek Hospital and Sanitorium to tell him that he was about to lose two of the babies because of poor bowel conditions. Dr. Kellog sent off an acidophilus culture for their use. A week later Dr. DeFoe called back. He felt,”Dr. Kellog had saved the babies’ lives with the acidophilus culture.”
When a new life comes into the world, it is fed by the mother. The first product from the breast is colostrum. This is the first substance which is ingested by the infant. It helps to promote peristalsis in the bowel. Moreover, it provides an acid environment in the colon. Within a short time the first bacteria will enter the infant’s digestive system. A colon which is acidic allows for the development of acidophilus bacteria, a friendly bacteria. An alkaline colon tends to pave thc way for a not so friendly bacteria known as B.coli to set up housekeeping.
The colon or large intestine will eventually contain a flora. This is a covering layer of microorganisms which live in the large intestine (principally) of man and this layer of flora plays a very important role in health and disease. These bacteria do a recycling job in Nature. They are capable of performing some complex chemical reactions. All life on this planet is influenced by bacteria. They are capable of producing some of the deadliest substances on the face of the earth through their metabolites. It has been estimated that the number of varieties of bacteria, fungi and other “critters” found in the colon is between four and five hundred. Research has tended to show that the mucous secreted by the intestine has an influence on the kind of bacteria we grow there.
Lactobacillus bifidis predominates in the infant colon where it helps keep the child from developing a number of infant diseases along with mother’s milk since antibodies from the mother are passed along to the infant through her milk. One important substance that provides a health media for growing this acidophilic bacteria by providing an acid media is lactose (milk sugar).
As the child grows older, a change of diet takes place and proteins are added at the expense often of lactose. As the less friendly B.coli enter the intestine they have the capability of taking charge if other conditions are right. Should constipation occur and conditions become just right in the colon, the B.coli start to act on the partially digested protein and putrefaction can occur. The protein is acted on by the bacteria and the by-product of this whole thing is the production of toxic substances.
Pioneers in holistic medicine from an earlier age started something which is still being carried on today by some. The amazing number of patients made well from a variety of diseases and conditions by reconstructing the health of an unhealthy and partially functioning colon would fill volumes. In our overly fast society, bad bowel habits and eating habits, a speed up in stress related activities, deadlines to meet, both parents working, kids in Day Care Centers and Latch Key children it is a small wonder that man is in deep trouble. So wound up in the cares and pressures of this world that we are probably robbing ourselves of a quality of life and hastening our entrance into the next.
Somehow, over the past two or three decades we have developed an attitude in medicine whose premise is that what is normal for you is O.K. If you have an elimination every second or third day, that is just fine. No problem. Not only has this made for rich proctologists and internists, but it has set the stage for more dire problems. Grandma’s logic has gone out the window in some circles.
The colon is not only a tube, but an organ which is trying to do important work. It is both tough and delicate at the same time. Think of a wood burning stove pipe. They draw off a lot of smoke and particulate matter into the atmosphere. The surprising thing about them is that they can develop a crust of black sooty substances up to a couple of inches thick (depending on how dry the wood is and the type of wood) and still function. This, despite the crust of the by-products of combustion. Similarly the colon can also collect around the interior wall of the gut, around the periphery or within the haustra (series of ongoing pouches). The poor unsuspecting patient may have regular elimination and still have a buildup around the bowel. All that goes into the body does not always come out of the body. I am not talking about occasional simple constipation. With chronic constipation or incomplete elimination we can have a bacterial putrefaction in which detrimental compounds are reabsorbed into the system.
Eventual pressure alone will influence the upper gastrointestinal action and create stress on the upper g.i., liver, gall bladder, pancreas and portal circulation. The bacterial action, the thinning out of the intestinal wall, the lining of the intestinal wall with a coating of material, which should have been eliminated all work together, to make the patient a virtual chemical factory producing dangerous toxins which are absorbed into the body.
The colon or large intestine is a tube about 5 to 6 feet in length in the adult. It is something in the shape of an inverted “U.” The small intestine empties into the colon at the ilium over on the lower right side of the abdomen. The colon travels up the right side of the abdomen (ascending colon) to the hepatic flexure (named for the liver) and crosses the abdomen to the left passing slightly downward and rising slightly higher on the left side (transverse colon)) in proximity to the spleen and travels down the left side of the abdomen (descending colon) to the “S” shaped portion known as the sigmoid colon to the rectum.
Food substances are chewed and swallowed and transported to the stomach where it is converted to chyme. It passes through the ileocecal valve at the end of its run through the small intestine and is known as chyle as it passes into the large intestine. At this point it contains casein, starch, fat droplets, cellulose, partially digested meat fibers, mucin, bacteria, certain salts of calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, sodium, phosphoric acid, stercobilin derived from bile salts, mucous and cells thrown off from the intestinal walls. It is about 70% water and 30% other products including bacteria.
We have already indicated the importance of a he.althy bacterial flora comprised of a preponderance of acidophilus. Certain foods such as coffee, chocolate and highly refined sugar can retard the maintenance of acidophilus and antibiotics can kill off the normal flora and permit unfriendly organisms to grow unchecked (Candida albicans for example). Birth control pills and steroid hormones can stimulate overgrowth of the wrong microorganisms. Each time a patient needs antibiotics, the patient should have follow-up care with therapy appropriate to re-establish the friendly bacterial culture. This is seldom done.
I am not opposed to antibiotics or steroids and prescribe them when I feel they are indicated, but the fact remains that special care is taken as follow-up therapy to insure the reestablishment of a healthy flora. Similarly, I do not believe every case of occasional constipation will lead to autointoxication. On the other hand chronic constipation or retained material left in the bowel too long with the wrong kind of bacterial action can start the putrefactive process rolling.
I shall never forget the retired school teacher from Texas who was very outspoken and could always be counted on to “tell it like it is.” There was no doubt that she was the “backbone” of her family and whose word was law. She was normally docile and even refined until something needed changing or cometed. At that point she unlimbered her heavy artillery and let fly. One day she dropped by the office to make an appointment for her daughter-in-law. I asked her what I needed to see the young lady for. She narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips and replied: “She is a toxic idiot.” I was unsure whether or not she was jolcing. “She is nuttier than a fruit cake! Her elimination is once a week or less. She has breath which could peel off your wall paper and she is too dumb to come in out of the rain. She looks like she died a month ago and they forgot to bury her.” Mrs. W. had made the problem abundantly clear.
I could hardly contain myself waiting to see my first “toxic idiot.” Certainly my education, internship and residency in general practice and diagnosis had been in some way deficient. When the young Mrs. W. showed up, I found a sallow complexioned young woman who was a trifle spacey and suffering fi-om fatigue. Her energy index was slightly better than a lemur. Checking her abdomen, I found the colon to contain several large hard masses. Her urine showed a heavy concentration of indican. Her blood count and hemoglobin were low. Her hair was dull and she had a history of PMS. Later the elder Mrs. W. called to inquire. “Was I right, Doctor?” “Well you certainly did the right thing in suggesting she come in.” I answered. I suggested that her insurance company would probably question a diagnosis of “Toxic Idiocy.” “You just call it what you want to doctor, but in my part of Texas we know what it is and what to do for it.” The young woman was treated after x-rays were taken and after a time all of her symptoms left her as normal habits were established.
Many holistic physicians, those who treat the whole person and not just the disease process, treat all kinds of problems of the digestive tract and the internal organs. In each case, the need for a well functioning clean healthy colon and a healthy bacterial flora is one of the first orders of business along with the other necessities of treatment. Treatment is varied. It may include colon washing, implantation with acidophilus and lactose culture, ingestion of B. acidophilus, increase in roughage, or bulk; prescription of hydrophilic compounds, substances supplying mucin, enzyme therapy, chlorophyll, barley juice, flax seed, psyllium husks, fasting and many others. All this and retraining if necessary to insure that elimination is brought up to good health.
Call it what you will, putrefaction, autointoxication, or plain common sense, the colon is not just a tube, and besides, who wants to be a toxic idiot?
Dr John H. Jeffries is a family physician in Cascade Locks, Oregon.