About this article

I have been writing mostly on radiation- related topics regularly since 1977.Over 11 years ago I wrote a feature article for the Press Trust of India on a topic people may generally avoid to talk about, though it is a cause of intense anxiety to many -CONSTIPATION-.

The inspiration to write that article was an interesting paper titled ” Myths and Misconceptions about Constipation” , I  read in the January 2005 issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology. I  asked a few questions to the lead author  Dr Stephan Muller-Lissner, Professor of MedicinePark-Klinik Weissensee , Humboldt University, Berlin. He answered them promptly. I used some of his responses appropriately in my article. I am not sure whether my article was reprinted by any other publication.

I thought I may reproduce the article now as I see that the subject has universal appeal



By Dr.K.S.Parthasarathy                            


.Volume No   XXI   (4) -2005            January  22, 2005

Constipation is a universal affliction. Researchers from Germany, UK, Italy and USA collaborated to dispel many myths about constipation in the current issue of American Journal of Gastroenterology. They address the widely held incorrect beliefs about constipation and examine the quality of medical evidence used to support these beliefs. The review covered 105 papers. The result: these beliefs are not evidence-based.

According to Professor Stefan Muller-Lissner, the lead author,  many retain the ancient belief that toxins may be formed from undigested food if it remains static in the colon for long. They also believe that these toxins may cause disease due to “autointoxication”. According to the authors, an Egyptian pharmaceutical papyrus from the 16th century BC contains references to this belief.

Nobody has ever demonstrated the presence of such toxins. But once the bowel gets evacuated, the vague symptoms attributed to autointoxication in constipated persons vanish.  People blame “autointoxication” for very many diseases including hypertension, arthritis, various cancers and skin disorders!

The authors argue that the role of dietary fibre in treating chronic constipation is exaggerated. Dietary fibre undoubtedly increases stool buck and frequency. There is proof that low fibre diet does not cause constipation. A fibre-rich diet may help many patients. But some suffer worse symptoms if they increase their fibre intake, the paper cautioned.

One may think that he passes stools too frequently or too infrequently; he may perceive it as too soft or too hard. The authors assure us that such deviations from normal do not have any adverse health impact.

Drinking more fluids may be useful in case of dehydration. The researchers found no data which support the notion that increase in fluid intake can effectively treat constipation.

Do the drug manufacturers exploit some of the myths on constipation to promote their products?

Prof. Muller Lissner is not sure about that but says that companies manufacturing fibre products elicit too much hope for success.

Some specialists implicated elongated colon as a cause of constipation. In a long colon the residence time of stools will be more, leading to greater water absorption. The researchers noted that this has never been demonstrated.

Population data do support the notion that those who engage in more physical activity do have lesser incidence of constipation. It is not clear whether this is a cause and effect relationship. The authors contend that the factors that may lead to constipation may also lead to diminished physical activity.

These researchers found that the laxatives available in the market today are safe when appropriate drugs are prepared and taken at recommended doses. I sought his reaction to the claim of many advocates of alternate medicine, that natural, herbal laxatives are safer than synthetic laxatives. The claim is not substantiated. Rather the contrary is true. The synthetic laxatives are generally better investigated than the natural ones, Prof Muller-Lissner replied. He pointed out one exception, namely the pure sennosides A and B. According to him, they are fairly well investigated.

He often sees patients who are bothered by chronic constipation, have tried fibre, drink a lot, are physically active but do not dare to take laxatives for fear of side effects (because my doctor told me so ).

Constipation is a universal affliction. Everyone must have complained about it one time or other. If you want to read the persuasively, seductive advertisements do a search using “colon cleansing” as keywords on the internet. There are many who take the gullible for a ride. The advertisements use scientific jargon liberally.

One such advertisement carries terrifying pictures of the contents of colon. The heavy mucus coating in the colon thickens and becomes a host of putrefaction. The blood capillaries to the colon begin to pick up the toxins, poisons and noxious debris as it seeps through the bowel wall. All tissues and organs of the body are now taking on toxic substances. Here is the beginning of true autointoxication on a physiological level.

One autopsy revealed a colon to be 9 inches in diameter with a passage through it no larger than a pencil. Another autopsy revealed a stagnant colon to weigh in at an incredible 40 pounds. A colon cleansing programme costs about US $90.

A cleverly advertised drug rejuvenates your intestinal tract, where these flushed toxins exit, and protects you from the damaging effects of toxin-generated free radicals. The ingredients in the medication include   natural products like sea minerals, micro-cluster structured water, micro-activated enzymes, several micro-activated mercury free formulations and needed inhibitors with over 100 beneficial flora. In spite of the scientific exposition of facts, many will believe in myths.


About ksparthasarathy

I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I am a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy. Free lance journalism is my hobby
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