Thursday, October 27, 2011

Colon Cleansing

We are fascinated by our bowels. Indeed, they dictate so much. If they work as they should, the world is perfect. If they start creating havoc, it is best to stay at home. A normal functioning intestinal system should be appreciated. It has taken a great-tasting meal, liquefied it, mixed it with enzymes, then gently extracted nutrients and bio-active compounds that nourish us and complement our immune system to keep evil bugs at bay. The fibre does an excellent job of protecting the bowel lining for year on year.

I suspect that as the end result doesn’t look pleasant or smell like perfume there is an assumption that there is a problem. Food does not rot or decompose within you. The colon is not a toxic waste dump. It is a brilliantly designed waste disposal system. Even diarrhea is good for you; it is usually a rapid expulsion of pathogenic bacteria (think food poisoning). It doesn’t feel good at the time, but diarrhea will often save your life. Vomiting is good for the same reason.

Long history
The concept of colon cleansing was based on the assumption that disease resided or originated the bowel. Ancient Egyptians and Greeks had the idea that food was decomposing at the back end and clean-out would help. Early in the 20th century washing out the colon with large volumes of fluid was a popular therapy. Despite our excellent knowledge of digestion, some think that this most strange of activities still offers merit in the 21st century.

Unpleasant side effects
A review article detailed a couple of cases where colon cleansing (or colonic irrigation) caused medical problems of intestinal pain and diarrhea. Some people receive up to 60 litres of water, with or without herbs, coffee and so-called “natural” ingredients.

The authors point that those likely to request colon cleansing may have medical problems like Crohn’s disease and haemorrhoids, and are more likely to experience adverse effects with this uncomfortable practice. Even if you are reasonably healthy, you can get side effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, pancreatitis, bowel perforation and infection from colon cleansing.

What does it all mean?
Of course, sometimes a bowel washout is necessary for medical examinations or surgery such as that for colon cancer. For the rest of us, know that your bowels don’t require some liquid intervention. Apart from the discomfort and there not being a shred of evidence for a health benefit, you will be washing out all those healthy bacteria that produce nutrients for your body and compounds that protect the bowel lining. Your body already has a natural detoxification system – the liver, kidneys, lungs and the intestines detoxify you in perfect harmony while you enjoy life.

Don’t engage in colon cleansing. Other forms of madness are far more healthy, like supporting the Fremantle Dockers football team, wearing ugg boots and eating alone in restuarants.

Reference: Journal of Family Practice 2011; 60 (8): 454-457

Monday, October 17, 2011

Eating alone

Because I am responsible for some research at the University of Western Sydney, 2-3 times a year I fly 4000 km to Sydney, then catch a train out to Parramatta in the deep western suburbs of the city. On arrival I dump my kit and head down to the sushi bar or Vietnamese restaurant for dinner. I sit there on my lonesome, eat and read (see pic).

I get sad looks and people comment that they hope to never end up like me, you know, kicked out of home, no friends, a person of interest to the local police.

Read, listen, type
Past research suggests that if you eat with friends then you are likely to eat more food, probably because you chat longer, drink more and eating is a social occasion so why not enjoy a second helping or some dessert? How much more? I’ve seen research ranging from 25% more to 100% more.

Research from the 1990s also found that lone diners who read seemed to stay at the meal table for longer. They didn’t record how much was eaten.

A study conducted in South Australia wanted to see if more food was eaten when someone ate alone while reading, listening to an ipod or using a laptop at the table. These people were labeled with the crushing expression “without social interaction”.

30 minutes
The observations were done at McDonalds in Adelaide because a Maccas menu is standardised and it easier to determine how much is eaten than at my sushi bar. Someone secretly watched all diners and recorded 141 people having no social interaction. They couldn’t include drinks because a secret observer can’t tell the difference between diet or regular drinks. The meals chosen by the observed lasted from 2-44 minutes, with half an hour being the average.

Music, typing, books didn’t increase eating
If you read, typed or tuned into your own music then you stayed longer, especially if you read. Thankfully, reading didn’t mean that you ate more. You spent twice as long at the table, but you didn’t eat more. Only one of those 141 diners went back for extra food. The researchers speculated that eating with others stimulated other social eating dimensions encouraging people to eat more; the mere presence of food didn’t drive people to over-eat. Reading while eating may have done no more than to reduce the discomfort of eating alone.

What does it all mean?
If you find yourself eating alone and happy to catch up on emails, tweet, read a novel or chill to some garage rock (my favourite) then ignore the looks of those thinking that you are tomorrow’s front page news. Just choose your meal wisely and enjoy it. It’s unlikely you are going to overdo it.

Every now and again have a look around. That dodgy bloke in the corner with the note pad and the camera stuffed under the jacket could be from the local university. Pop over and tell them that laptopping, ipodding and reading is a form of social interaction; just because I’m not talking doesn’t mean I ain’t interacting with society. Hey, aren’t I interacting with you right now? Hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Seriously.

Reference:  Appetite 2011; 57: 77-79