I drove up from Scottsdale to my old family place in Flagstaff yesterday. On car trips where I’m driving, I usually listen either to CD’s or the radio—thanks to my husband, I have Sirius radio, and thus can choose from the BBC (love the accents, as well as the different world views you get), any kind of music one can think of, or the Usual Suspects in terms of domestic news. Given the hair-raising state of current affairs, I was mostly listening to the domestic channels. Which have advertising.
Now, I don’t really mind hearing guff about credit-counseling agencies, truck-driving companies, or male-enhancement products (the best was one I heard last week, while driving with my husband: a “lotion-based” enhancement “guaranteed to increase your size as soon as you rub it in!” My husband nearly died laughing). I do, however, draw the line at the ads for colon cleansers.
I don’t know if they’re all the same company under different product names, but they all have the same script. Their product, they assure you, will rid you of, “the ten to twenty-five pounds of UNDIGESTED WASTE that some experts say is stuck to the walls of your colon, like spackle or paste!”
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this quaint theory; I once visited a massage therapist who earnestly showed me a “scientific booklet” showing cross-sectional illustrations of the large intestine, looking like a kitchen drain clogged by ever-increasing grease deposits.
Were y’all not paying attention in Junior High biology, when the gross anatomy and general function of the large intestine were explained? Evidently a lot of people weren’t.
For starters, stand in front of a mirror and open your mouth. You are looking at one end of your digestive system. Do you see food sticking to the back of your throat? I sincerely hope not. OK, do you know why food is not sticking to the back of your throat?
Because it is slippery! Yes, very good. And why is it slippery? Because the back of your throat (and the inside of your nose, just for good measure) is lined with a mucous membrane. That means the tissue there is equipped with a large number of cells that produce….yes, indeedy, mucus! Mucus is exceedingly slippery. Slimy, even. Stuff does not stick to it.
All right. Stop-press news here: your whole, entire intestinal system is lined by this same mucous membrane. If food isn’t sticking at the top of your alimentary canal, it isn’t sticking at the bottom, either. No spackle.
No twenty-five pounds of undigested food, either. Now, even if you take my word for it that “undigested waste” (which is a contradiction in terms; if it hasn’t been digested, it isn’t waste; it’s just chewed-up food. Believe me, you would notice if you were excreting undigested food) is not sticking to the walls of your large intestine, it might be argued that if your colon were especially sluggish, glop might be lollygagging around in there, making you weigh more.
It might be argued, but that isn’t true, either, and it’s pretty dang easy to prove it. You know the colonoscopy that you’re supposed to get when you turn 50, and every so often thereafter? Well, before a doctor goes sticking an endoscope up your rear end, he or she would like to make sure of having an unobstructed view. To this end, the preparation for a colonoscopy involves drinking a solution of a liquid containing magnesium, which is a powerful laxative. You can buy this stuff in any drug store; it’s called Fleet, and it’s utterly revolting. But effective. It will remove everything in your colon within a few hours. And if you—out of a spirit of scientific inquiry—should happen to weigh yourself before and after this process, you will note that you do not—alas—lose ten to twenty-five pounds. You might—temporarily—lose one. If you drink enough water to kill the taste, you’ll probably—temporarily—gain weight.
If you have any doubts, ask the medical personnel who do your colonoscopy if they noticed any spackle-like deposits clinging to the walls of your colon. If they did, I bet they’d mention it.
I haven’t looked at the ingredient list of any of these products—I’ve never even seen one in the flesh—but I’d bet money that magnesium is one of, if not the, main ingredient. Taking two 500 mg magnesium tablets (which will cost you about 6 cents) will do anything one of these colon-cleansers does, I assure you. (I take magnesium tablets for occasional migraines—along with three aspirin and a nice glass of white wine, plus a schmear of Tiger Balm on temples and under nose. Treatment for migraines is highly idiosyncratic; I don’t recommend this for anybody else, but it usually works for me. But that’s how I know about the other effects of magnesium tablets.)
Putting aside the question of their supposed physiological basis, which is utter nonsense, do these colon-cleansers actually work, in terms of weight loss?
Well, yeah, they probably do—if used as directed. My chiropractor (hey, writing for a living is physically destructive; I have major arthritis in my neck, and my spine looks like I’m playing Twister, even while sitting down) once tried one of these “cleanser” regimes, and was so enthused, he was recommending it to all his clients.
“Yeah?” I said. “What do you do?”
“Oh,” he said, “it’s easy! Three days a week, you just drink the cleanser crystals, in juice or water or whatever. I’ve lost ten pounds in a month!”
“Great!” I said. “And you eat normally while you do this?”
“Oh, no,” he said. “You don’t eat on the days you take the cleanser.”
“Jeffrey,” I said, when he had stopped twisting my head, “you are losing weight because you’ve cut your caloric intake in half. You’d get the same effect if you just didn’t eat solid food every other day.”
He didn’t believe me, of course. But I hope you will. Drink water, eat less (but whatever you do eat should have fiber), and save your money, is my advice. And listen to the BBC. It’s soothing to realize that the world is bigger than Wall Street and Washington.