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Constipation

and diverticular disease

What and Why?

Your colon bears the brunt of all your dietary mistakes, because that is where their consequences congregate. Irritant chemicals, whether from food processing or wrong digestion, hang around there long enough to cause mischief, especially if you eat too little vegetable fibre to wrap them up out of harm’s way.

If you escape colitis your colon slumps into inertia — a kind of intoxicated sleep. This is much less trying, and is regarded as normal by millions of people in the developed world. Your bowel acts only once a day or less, to pass a few firm lumpy faeces each composed of separate nuggets pressed together. Pushing them out is slow unless you strain a bit; reading in the toilet is a modern institution!

Colic is the rhythmic pang you get in your lower abdomen when your bowel is trying to move hard faeces along. Children may have it regularly, often together with catarrh and sometimes seepage or soiling of their underwear. Their appendix is constantly under threat of obstruction; grumbling appendix is sometimes the result.

But by now unhealthy bacteria are well established generally in your bowel, and are probably encroaching into the lower part of your small intestine. If, during a grumble, one of these bacteria gets a hold, a less easily reversible acute appendicitis follows. If your appendix bursts the infection spreads all over your abdomen; that is peritonitis.

Whether or not you lose your appendix in this way, the underlying problem progresses. The congestive effects on your circulation produce piles or varicose veins; straining out a hard motion can tear your anus, producing a fissure. Reabsorbed toxins poison your metabolism, fouling your body odour and causing headache.

Chronic severe pangs strain your bowel, weakest where blood vessels pass through the muscle layers; the unsupported skin there can pout back during a pressure wave, like a bike inner tube through a hole in the tyre. Once a bubble of skin has been forced through a hole like this, it gets bigger with every pang. These bubbles are diverticula, which can get as big as Brussels sprouts after a lifetime of constipation. Faeces get in and cannot easily get out. Sometimes they putrefy and discharge painfully into your bowel, giving slimy diarrhoea; this is diverticulitis; occasionally an infected diverticulum bursts the other way, giving you another chance of peritonitis.

Without constipation and excessive meat eating, bowel cancer would probably not occur at all. Thirty years of irritation provides many opportunities for the skin of your colon to make mistakes. The usual places are exactly where faecal toxins persist the longest — the cauldron or caecum at its very beginning, where your appendix is attached and your faeces are formed; and in the last quarter leading to your anus, where constipated faeces linger before you get rid of them. If you are to prevent this from happening, you must start many years before.

What can I do?

Advice to maintain and maximise health

1. You may need an enema to get your bowel moving in the first place. Your doctor can arrange this through your district nurse, if your problem is severe enough.

2. Otherwise, stop using stimulant medicines to make your bowel act. Half a cup daily of crushed or pured linseed, or two dessertspoonsful of fresh linseed oil on an empty stomach, can be substituted for a time, and is safer in pregnancy.

3. Brew herbs like camomile and mint instead of coffee and Indian tea.

4. Start a cleansing diet, emphasising fresh and soaked dried fruit and raw green vegetables.

5. Drink one pint (half a litre) of water before each meal, or as much of it as you can manage.

6. Use wheat sprouts and the bran recipe brose to increase your fibre intake. Never take bran dry, or on its own. Mix it thoroughly with more than its own volume of whole-grain cereal, and moisten it well. Otherwise it may swell into sticky lumps, like badly made porridge, and clog you up worse than you are already.

7. Vigorous daily exercise is valuable, followed by a shower while still perspiring. Finish with cold water all over your abdomen, and massage it firmly in clockwise circles. Massage a constipated child’s stomach in this way during every bath, before you dry him.

8. Four weeks’ perseverence should cure you. When you get one or two clear calls to the toilet daily, can empty your bowel under its own steam without any straining, and produce faeces that form a long smooth flexible snake that coils up in the pan without snapping, you are there. But refined floury foods and white rice may start a relapse if you slide back into eating them. It should be obvious what is at stake; always keep your diet well within safe bounds.

9. If your problem persists stubbornly and you are abnormally susceptible to the cold, look up Always Cold. If you are not, try taking a teaspoon of cider vinegar with or after meals. If this does not make you uncomfortable, increase the dose. Settle eventually on the amount which just avoids discomfort; it will vary according to the meal. This may improve your digestion, reduce wind and ease your bowel action at last.

10. To improve your bowel emptying technique, follow the advice in Piles.

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