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Gastrointestinal Quackery: Colonics, Laxatives, and More

Posted Sep 12 2010 6:07am

The importance of “regularity” to overall health has been greatly overestimated for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians associated feces with decay and used enemas and laxatives liberally. In more recent times, this concern has been embodied in the concept of “autointoxication” and has been promoted by warnings against “irregularity.”

The theory of “autointoxication” states that stagnation of the large intestine (colon) causes toxins to form that are absorbed and poison the body. Some proponents depict the large intestine as a “sewage system” that becomes a “cesspool” if neglected. Other proponents state that constipation causes hardened feces to accumulate for months (or even years) on the walls of the large intestine and block it from absorbing or eliminating properly. This, they say, causes food to remain undigested and wastes from the blood to be reabsorbed by the body .

Around the turn of the twentieth century many physicians accepted the concept of autointoxication, but it was abandoned after scientific observations proved it wrong. In 1919 and 1922, it was clearly demonstrated that symptoms of headache, fatigue, and loss of appetite that accompanied fecal impaction were caused by mechanical distension of the colon rather than by production or absorption of toxins.  Moreover, direct observation of the colon during surgical procedures or autopsies found no evidence that hardened feces accumulate on the intestinal walls.

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